Dear readers, as most of you know, I have a vested interest in keeping informed of changes in kava’s worldwide legal status. Kava is my and my family’s livelihood, and it behooves us to know which countries have no problem with importing kava and which ones will stop it at the border. However, a recent upset in the United Kingdom’s laws surrounding kava has left many vendors (as well as ordinary British citizens!) confused about the legal status of kava in Britain. In a new ruling announced just this past week, the United Kingdom’s Department of Health stated it would be tightening its regulations on kava: among other things, this means that families in South Pacific countries will no longer be able to send kava to their loved ones in the United Kingdom.
Readers, I am disappointed and more than a little confused at this ruling! Kava drinking is an essential part of culture for people of South Pacific descent; to suddenly deprive them of that, when kava has been used without incident in the UK for the past twelve years, seems arbitrary and unfair. Gillian Capewell, press officer for the UK Department of Health, explained the department’s reasoning: “The Kava-kava in food (England) regulations 2002 came into force January 13th, 2003, banning the sale, possession for sale, offer, exposure, or advertisement for sale [of kava]. In addition, the regulations also ban the importation into England of any food consisting of, or containing, kava-kava.” Capewell argued that the UK did not change its laws regulating kava; instead, the change reflects an increase in enforcement of the existing kava laws. The law was put in place in 2003 when UK officials believed kava to carry a potential risk of liver damage.
I won’t waste space here debunking those liver damage claims, as I have posted several articles on this blog addressing kava and liver safety. However, I will say that this move toward greater enforcement is not only baffling, but its actual impact on kava vendors such as our own humble farm is far from clear. For one thing, in most countries including the US, where we are based, kava is classified as a dietary supplement and not a food. How will the UK handle kava products that are clearly labeled as dietary supplements? Will customs stop any product that contains kava or only those that are more food-like such as instant kava mixes?
Furthermore, the Biosecurity Agency of Fiji maintains that they are not aware of any importation ban in the UK on kava intended for personal use. Chairman Xavier Riyaz Khan said that the agency would be informed of any ban by the Plant Protection Organization, its counterpart in the United Kingdom. While kava root and medicines that contain extracts of kava root are banned for sale in Britain, kava is still legal to possess as far as I can determine. I can also say that Kona Kava Farm has been shipping kava to customers in the United Kingdom for over ten years and has rarely had a package stopped. Our success rate for shipping kava through British customs hovers at 98% (with a 95% success rate in Ireland), compared to a 50% success rate in Australia, which has far more restrictive kava laws.
So if I’m in the UK, can I order kava from you or not?
The short answer? Our 98% success rate at least merits a try. Customers in Australia have historically had a much harder time receiving kava from us (50% is about as good odds as flipping a coin), but our customers in Britain and Ireland haven’t had too much trouble getting their kava through customs. It remains to be seen how the UK’s new enforcement decision will affect things, but until we encounter an issue, we’re going to err on the side of our success record and ship kava to customers in the UK who wish it for their own personal (and still legal!) possession and use.