The producer and distributors of Yunnan Baiyao, a traditional Chinese medicine, have been sued for failing to list all of the product's ingredients on the Chinese version of the label. A quick glance at the English label for exports to the US shows that one of their products contains Kusnezoff Monkshood root, a species of wolfsbane which is considered harmful and potentially fatal in excessive amounts.
Luo Qiulin, a lawyer from Hunan province, filed the lawsuit this week, accusing the manufacturer of failing to inform and respect consumer rights by deliberately withholding ingredients and their amounts on the packaging labels. Identical products have fully listed ingredients on the exported version, according to the state-run China National Radio.
This is the third time the company has come under fire for dubious practices. A lawyer named Zhao Yin from Beijing sued the firm in 2009 because of the allergic reaction he experienced after taking the medicine. The medicine had been wrongly prescribed because the ingredients had not been fully listed.
In 2003, a patient died after taking medicine prescribed ay First Affiliated Hospital of Jinan University in Guangzhou. A court ruled that the person's death was caused by Kusnezoff Monkshood root.
The herb is also known as "intestine-slicing grass" in China, according to Jin Haijie, a director of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine Affiliated Huguosi Hospital. It contains an alkaloid that can harm the kidneys if taken in excessive amounts.
Yunnan Baiyao's medicines have been widely used since 1902 and are otherwise considered an effective treatment in reducing pains and treating rheumatism or joints pains, according to China National Radio.
The maker of Yunnan Baiyao said the medicine's ingredients are not allowed to be made public because they are a state secret. The website of State Food and Drug Administration showed that seven of the company's products were classified as "protected Chinese herbal medicines," in which Yunnan Baiyao and its capsules have been placed under protection since 1995 until 2015.
Jin said the ingredients of many Chinese traditional herbal medicines are undisclosed and protected. Whether they should be made public depends on local laws. Many of these medicines were passed down as family treasures through generations so that the families sometimes hide key ingredients to keep the medicine from being reproduced. A senior manager of Yunnan Baiyao said the company did not violate any laws and its US labels were a gesture of respect to US law and consumer habits, according to China National Radio.