Professor Vincent Lebot says kava producing countries must establish standards to ensure their kava is of high quality and can become a more lucrative business.
But what is the real situation on the issue of kava in Europe?
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Matthew Newman, spokesman for the European Commission
NEWMAN: Well it really depends on each member state, because the kava industry is not regulated European wide. It depends on each member state, and I understand that there have been warnings in several countries, such as Germany, France, the UK about potential risks of kava. Some risks may be to your liver, some people have liver dysfunction. I understand that there's no outright bans of kava, except in one member state, that's Poland. It's viewed as a natural psycho-active substance; it's sold mostly in health food stores in several member states. But the only outright ban we know of is in Poland.
COUTTS: Is it all kava or are there some qualities that are safe for use?
NEWMAN: Well we're not making any kind of judgement on kava because it simply has not been assessed by our European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction. We have not assessed the risks. So as I said before there's no European wide ban on kava. Also it's up to each EU member state to assess it. When we get involved is when an EU member state requests that a certain substance be banned, and then it goes through a whole procedure where we make an assessment, and we have done this with some drugs where there are European wide bans. But it's not the case yet with kava.
COUTTS: Is it a case of anything in moderation is ok, so if kava use was restricted to traditional ceremonies, would that be ok?
NEWMAN: Well you'll probably understand that there are not that many Pacific Islanders in Europe who are using this in mainstream, it hasn't reached the mainstream society in Europe. We know it exists, we know it's been sold, but it's not mass marketed. So we're not making any kind of judgements on the level of use. We know that its properties have long been used and appreciated in the Pacific and Polynesia, where it's a very common herbal product. But it really is not a widespread product here in Europe.
COUTTS: Well the Pacific claim that they're losing in excess of 30-million a year in kava trade. Is a solution having kava graded under international food and beverage standards, so that importing countries can be assured of its quality?
NEWMAN: Well there is no ban as I mentioned. There was only a ban in one country, in Poland.
COUTTS: If there's no ban, what are the restrictions preventing it from being imported?
NEWMAN: Well as I said there are just some warnings that have been issued in several countries. Some of the authorities in let's say Germany, France and the UK have warned consumers about potential risks. But it's at this point not banned. There's not a question of talking about quality or bad quality or good quality, it's just potentially for some consumers it could be potentially dangerous. So that's what prompted the regulatory agencies in some countries to take action to warn consumers about the potential risks. And then just one country they've actually stepped up and banned it in shops. So it remains to be seen whether or not it will be assessed by the European monitoring agency, which hasn't been asked yet to assess it.