A handful of Asian nations have recently come back to the table in discussions on how kratom can become a legal commodity for global trade. Taiwan appears to be headed in the opposite direction after a billion-dollar kratom seizure, aided by authorities from the United States.
Authorities in Taiwan completed a months-long process of seizing $1.14 billion worth of kratom from a port in Koahsiung City. The intended destination of the kratom was Los Angeles before local authorities were “tipped off” about the roughly 400,000 pounds of kratom, leading to the seizure of the shipment under Taiwanese law.
Despite kratom being legal in both the country it was sent from and the port it was being sent to, the plant has been illegal in Taiwan since 2019 and created the necessary legal conditions to seize the shipment. The tip led to two containers being seized at first before authorities traced the boxes and found others that had originated from the same location.
Media reports say that U.S. authorities alerted their Taiwanese counterparts of the shipment, but it is unclear whether or not the action was taken as part of an import alert or formal action by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Due to the containers being in transit, no arrests were made, and no charges are expected to be filed
The only outcome is that thousands of kratom products will now be destroyed after being caught in the crossfire of an evolving industry. Local authorities said the crackdown limited kratom from being smuggled onto the island, without indicating if the shipment had been accessed or opened while en route from Indonesia to Los Angeles.
The American Kratom Association recently took a trip to Indonesia as part of a trip to meet with Asian authorities and discuss the future of kratom. Those visits were characterized as positive, with the AKA able to meet with senior government officials to encourage them to act on science and their own interests in the issue… not at the behest of the FDA.
Because of how the FDA implements its authority to issue import alerts, the AKA has contended that any product containing kratom has been labeled as adulterated by the FDA, and thus illegal for import.
While the AKA’s discussions with government officials, farmers and other cogs in the kratom export business centered on hypothetical situations of regulatory overreach, it didn’t take long for American authorities to take action. For those who are looking to grow kratom into a safe, regulated industry, this action is just the latest to show why a robust conversation around kratom, including all stakeholders in the industry, is required.
U.S. Fingerprints on the Taiwan’s Kratom Seizure
Although he wasn’t speaking specifically about this seizure, a senior fellow with the AKA hinted at such action as the new wave of FDA moves against kratom. As more states take up the cause of regulating kratom, Mac Haddow said during a recent webinar that the FDA is “losing their audience” in terms of governments willing to take up their cause of limiting access to kratom.
What started as a quest to convince states to ban kratom, and only led to six states taking action, led to failed attempts to ban kratom, fueled by the FDA, both within the United States government and within international organizations. Now, with few options left to take up the cause of kratom prohibition, the FDA has turned to foreign governments with their misinformation campaigns.
Obfuscating Kratom Discussions Abroad
Earlier this year the Czech Republic took up the kratom question after reports of easy access for children and adulterants in kratom products. Haddow said the FDA supported a ban, and fed the same information it has given to other foreign governments to the Czech authorities to try and sway the decision.
“It was false information,” Haddow said.
Similar to what has played out in other countries, as well as many U.S. states, Czech lawmakers found themselves caught in the gray area where the European Union was “slow” in its response, leaving local authorities to ultimately make the call.
Once the discussion moved away from the disinformation of opponents, Czech leaders shifted from a ban toward regulation. More specifically, talks centered on how to shift from a “gray market” to a regulated structure that protects consumers and keeps products out of the hands of children. At the time, the German Drug Czar said he was “watching in the Czech Republic to see what kratom is all about there and how the debate is going.”
Like in Taiwan, U.S. authorities tried to put their hand on the scale in another country’s kratom debate. Unlike in Taiwan, local lawmakers chose to make decisions “according to science” and rejected the suggestions of American regulators.
It’s a situation that has gotten serious enough that it’s starting to cause real headaches for scientists like Brendan Hughes, who works on drug legislation at the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
“This has been likened before to a game of Whac-A-Mole.”