The Ginseng wars continue.|
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to bar Kentucky from selling the medicinal herb internationally.
Kentucky is the nation's leading producer of ginseng.
The US Fish and Wildlife Services says Kentucky has jeopardized its right to export the highly prized roots by not adequately policing their harvest and sale.
This latest development is one of several that have recently surfaced in disputes over the globalized ginseng market, at times indicating a take-over of the market by corporate growers.
Ginseng is touted as a cure-all for everything from headaches to sexual dysfunction, and is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Kentucky, Fish and Wildlife Service agents contend they have found widespread violations of U.S. ginseng laws.
They charged 17 ginseng dealers with illegally purchasing the tiny roots from undercover officers during the spring and early summer months when digging is forbidden.
Ten of the people charged have paid fines totaling $35,000 and forfeiting up to $200,000 worth of roots.
Mac Stone, head of the ginseng program in the state Department of Agriculture, told lawmakers last week that inaction could jeopardize Kentucky's wild ginseng trade which generates $5 million to $8 million a year in supplemental revenue for rural families.
Industry reps say barring Kentucky ginseng would reduce U.S. exports of the roots to China and other Asian countries by about 20 percent.
It could push the price to record levels.
Kentucky accounts for 7 1/2 tons of ginseng exports, with West Virginia producing about 3 1/2 tons.
The Fish and Wildlife Service guard against over-harvesting.
In the past 10 years, Georgia has once been removed from the list of states approved.
Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, said the industry would oppose any efforts by the federal government to halt Kentucky exports.
"I think the idea that Fish and Wildlife would withhold the right of legal dealers in Kentucky to export their ginseng because others are operating illegally is contrary to the generally accepted rule of law," said McGuffin.
Ginseng watchers contend more powerful forces are at work in an effort to corner the market, with mountain "root diggers" having little influence on advancing their cause.
Donan Jenkins, a ginseng dealer from western Kentucky, said deer, which eat the plants, and turkey, which eat the seeds, destroy far more ginseng than diggers.
Jenkins said the habitat loss to coal and timber companies has a drastic effect.
He contends ginseng remains plentiful, despite the push by state and federal officials to toughen laws.
"They're setting up there in air-conditioned offices saying, 'We've got to shut this thing down,'" Jenkins said. "All they're wanting is big headlines," and likely attempting to allow corporate growers or global interests to take over the market.
See Ginseng Sale Disrupted