It is not widely known in the herb industry that about 75% of the herbs in world commerce are still collected from wild sources. Although there has been considerable recent progress in development of small- and large-scale cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), most of the medicinal plants sold in this region—except for the obvious native American plants, e.g. black cohosh, echinacea, saw palmetto—are sourced from overseas. This is due to several factors, including providing a more reliable and steady source of such agricultural products, as well as reducing pressure on wild North American populations. Also, many MAPs are tropical and/or subtropical and simply will not grow in North America.
Another compelling reason for such imports is economic: MAPs tend to be collected and/ or grown in countries where the significantly lower pay scale tends to maintain a downward pressure on their prices. In this issue, we present an in-depth article on the growing Fair Trade movement, which has gained significant ground in the past decade as more consumers and companies supplying agricultural products (e.g., coffee, tea, chocolate, and selected MAPs) have become sensitive to the ethical imperative to ensure that collectors, field workers, processing plant workers, and others in developing countries receive fair, reasonable, and economically and socially sustainable financial compensation for their labor.
At a friend’s wedding about 25 years ago, I met a man who was in the produce industry. He aggressively scoffed at the idea that organically grown fruits and vegetables would ever become mainstream fare, due to a lack of adequate scale keeping their prices too high for most consumers. The organic food movement is now mainstream—even Wal-Mart sells organically produced foods—and has experienced major annual growth, outpacing increases in conventional foods. Today the scoffer’s company sells ample organic produce, and, if I were to re-engage him in our quarter-century-old conversation, he would obviously have to eat his words, though I would prefer that he eat organic produce.
I wonder what fate awaits the Fair Trade movement. Will this be the domain of, say, a vocal 5% of consumers, those who are referred to as socially and environmentally conscious? Or, will Fair Trade, like the organic food movement before it—and perhaps the current “locavore” food movement— become one of the next major trends? We suspect it might, and hence, we’ve dedicated a significant number of pages to provide a view into its emergence.
Our good friend and ABC Advisory Board member Josef Brinckmann (vice-president of research and development at Traditional Medicinals, a maker of pharmacopeial-grade medicinal teas), has teamed up with Kerry Hughes, an ethnobotanist, author, and Fair Trade consultant, to produce an article explaining the scope of service of various Fair Trade programs and why they believe they are necessary in today’s global economy.
This issue’s additional in-depth feature deals with a serious health concern of global proportions—the many bacteria that are growing resistant to conventional antibiotics and these medications’ increasing inability to prevent and treat such drug-resistant infections. As documented by numerous news reports and groups such as the World Health Organization, the spread of serious infections from bacteria like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) inside and outside of hospitals is creating a public health challenge of mounting concern to many health officials, physicians and nurses, hospital administrators, and policymakers around the world.
One promising prospect, however, might be found in various essential oils. Contributing writer Lindsay Stafford discusses this situation in an extensive article, explaining the potential role that various antimicrobial essential oils can play in killing drug-resistant bacteria and thus preventing and treating the serious diseases that they cause. While citing examples of highly promising in vitro and human research, as well as case reports of essential oils being used successfully in healthcare settings, the article also explains what must happen before essential oils could ever become standard items in hospital rooms.