Magazine Article Worries Vanuatu Kava Dealers

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‘Sensational’ story may hurt progress in exporting kava

By Len Garae

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Jan. 7, 2013) – In Vanuatu, kava dealers who export to the United States know the risk they are involved in saying it is like selling petrol where some buyers put it in their cars while others may sniff it, which means those that sell it have no control over how it is used in America.

However while the issue of the sale of kava drink mixed with other substances in America can perhaps cause the drinker’s head to spin out of control, one thing has to be made clear to one ignorant American reporter and the wider American public and that is that the dried kava that is exported there from Vanuatu, when mixed as a drink without any other substance, has not been proven by science to be a threat to the drinker’s health.

The article carried in our Issue No: 3746 under the heading "While legal, doctors, counselors, police cite concerns about effects of kava, kratom," was written by an ignorant American reporter for his readers in South Florida.

The reporter cultivated his article by linking kava to kratom to entice his readers to try to connect the dangerous effect of illegal drugs while his own headline to the story makes it clear that kava is "legal."

In our first ever interview with U.S. kava dealer Andrew Procyk early last year, he was confident that kava was slowly becoming the drink to go for in the U.S. to calm the confused mind and ease the physical aches to the body a worker gets from working too hard and pushing the body too far.

Now with the article that appeared in the paper in South Florida, kava exporters from Vanuatu are worried that such sensationalized writing may eventually force America to follow suit and ban kava like the European Union has done ten years ago. The EU ban is still in force.

Ruth Amos of The Food Centre and kava dealers James Armitage and Cameron McLeod and Joe Pakoa of the Department of Trade agree that once kava exports go outside Vanuatu, there is nothing that kava exporters can do but that here at home this is where Quality Control has to come in. All the kava dealers present during the Teleconference in the Ministry of Trade last Friday agreed for the importance and urgency of quality control of kava products to be put in place as soon as possible to safeguard the country’s "green gold’ export.

The International Kava Conference held at Warwick Le Lagon Hotel & Spa last year resolved for all Regional kava producing countries of Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Marshall Islands to commit themselves towards reaching accepted Local, then Regional then International Kava Standards through which to export kava as Food and Beverage approved by the FAO and WHO.

A clear example of the dilemma facing kava exporters today in the absence of an accepted international kava standard is the dried kava that is exported from Vanuatu to America. It is pure dried kava but once it is received by the buyer, he or she sells it to his client and the client can add kratom or whatever else to this kava drink and that is where the problem starts.

In Vanuatu kava has been used in traditional ceremonies as well as, as a social drink for hundreds if not thousands of years and the population has continued to thrive which proves that the drink is safe.

Procyk says, "Kratom has been on the Drug of Concern List for a long time but never kava and is sold in health food and other shops as well as kava bars for at least the past 20 years."

The reporter from South Florida writes, "Some authorities believe that kava and its cousin kratom, are on a similar path to that of synthetic marijuana, a substance one widely sold legally in Palm Beach County but has since been banned by the county commission."

The American kava dealer Procyk replies. "This is terrifying, as there is a direct suggestion to the (potential) prohibition of kava. It is also patently wrong because kratom and kava are not cousins. They are sold at the same establishments but so is beer and orange juice. The links to kava and synthetic marijuana are obviously an attempt by the journalist to bundle all herbal products together. Is there an agenda here by either local or federal authorities? Unfortunately this could well impact on Vanuatu’s biggest export."

In 2002 the FDA alerted consumers and health care advisers to potential risk of liver problems with the use of kava. This was due to the liver scare in Europe and Germany and as a result the EU banned kava from exporters from the Pacific. The ban is still in place.

Since then, a 2009 report contradicted the claims of hepatotoxicity effects. "When extracted in the appropriate way, kava may pose less or no potential liver problems. I hope the results will encourage governments to reconsider the ban," according to lead researcher Jerome Saris of the University of Queensland.

Procyk says, "That, as well as recent research by Matthias Schmidt and Vince Lebot, should forever bury any of these liver damage claims. It is like referring to the propaganda that they put out years ago that said marijuana turned you into a homicidal maniac (Reefer Madness) and expect to be taken seriously.

"In summary if there were hepatoxic issues related to kava, half of the population of the South Pacific would suffer serious liver problems, which they do not".

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