Experts gathering to discuss tapping into $40-$50 billion natural products market

September 27, 2002

CHAPEL HILL -- How North Carolina and especially its agricultural communities can tap into the U.S. natural medicinal products market - a $40 billion to $50 billion industry -- will be the topic of discussion Monday (Sept. 30) as several hundred experts gather for a conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The daylong meeting, the first of its kind for the state and among the first in the country, will begin at 8 a.m. at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education.

Among distinguished speakers at the North Carolina Summit on Natural Medicinal Products will be Valeria L. Lee, president of the GoldenLEAF Foundation, Dr. Jeffrey L. Houpt, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the UNC School of Medicine, and Dr. James B. Oblinger, dean of the N.C. State University School of Agriculture & Life Sciences. Joe and Terry Graedon of "The People's Pharmacy," which originates from WUNC-FM, also will speak.

"We'll be discussing how to develop and market natural medicinal products that are marketable and at the same time safe and effective," said Dr. John B. Longenecker, director of UNC's Institute of Nutrition and summit chair. "GoldenLEAF: Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation Inc., which received a large share of the state's part of the tobacco settlement, is promoting economic programs that farming communities can use to supplement or replace income previously derived from tobacco production.

"We see our role as helping them succeed in this effort by combining sound economics, agricultural and medical science to ensure any products we promote will not only be economically feasible but also clinically important for public health," he said.

Among scientists attending will be health experts from the UNC schools of public health and medicine and agricultural specialists from N.C. State University, which maintains experimental projects designed to determine the most efficient ways of growing medicinal herbs, Longenecker said.

"There are quite a few of such plants that grow naturally in North Carolina, which gives us a distinct advantage over other producers around the world," he said. "Jobs these researchers have set for themselves include undertaking surveys to determine these plants' importance to the market, their potential for North Carolina agriculture and their efficacy and safety."

Lee and Oblinger will welcome attendees. Dr. A. Dennis McBride, former N.C. health director, will preside over the first session, which will include talks on the history, production and marketing of medicinal herbs, the business success of Vermont-based Gaia Herbs and biotechnology, agriculture and health.

David Bruton, former N.C. secretary of health and human services, will preside at the second morning session. Talks will cover successful natural product businesses in North Carolina, controlled trials of botanical effectiveness and evaluating the agricultural potential of N.C. herbs.

After welcoming remarks by Houpt and a talk by the Graedons, three concurrent afternoon work sessions will focus on expanding production and marketing of the state's natural medicinal products; health, safety and effectiveness issues; and consumer and industry factors related to boosting business.

"We plan to draft a consensus statement, hopefully by the end of the day, in which we as health professionals stress the need for more information about the safety and effectiveness of these products," said co-chair Dr. Lenore Arab, professor of epidemiology and nutrition in public health and medicine at UNC. "There are so many on the market, and there's no research to support claims being made for many of them. Among our goals are to conduct clinical trials to find out which ones really work and are safe for people to take."

The Consortium of Natural Medicine and Public Health is a voluntary group of people of diverse backgrounds in agriculture, health and industry, Longenecker said. Begun under the auspices of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the UNC Institute of Nutrition and the N.C. Department of Agriculture, it is dedicated to developing natural medicinal products responsibly for North Carolina and will work with the GoldenLEAF Foundation to reach that goal.
Note: A news briefing about the issues, conclusions reached and future plans will take place from 2-2:30 p.m. in the Wildflower B Room at the Friday center Sept. 30.
Longenecker can be reached at (919) 966-1094.
Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596

UNC News Services

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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