Hong Kong should develop a system of clinical trials for traditional Chinese medicine if it wants to gain international recognition, a British-based academic says. Dr Henry Lee, director of the European Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine at Middlesex University, said: 'We have been saying that Chinese medicine has been in use for 2,500 years, therefore it is safe . . . Scientists overseas are saying 'Fine. So what? Where is your evidence?' ' His call came ahead of today's announcement of a list of registered traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in Hong Kong. About 8,000 herbalists applied for recognition, the first time that Chinese medicine has been recognised in the same way that doctors, dentists, nurses and other health-care professionals are licensed to practise in the SAR. During a visit to Hong Kong Dr Lee said the new system for testing traditional Chinese medicine did not have to be similar to the Western system of clinical trials. 'The Chinese medicine community have to agree whether we should adopt the Western clinical trials or whether we should adopt a new one.' He said following the Western research format might be difficult for Chinese herbs, which usually contain a variety of chemical compounds. 'Chinese medicine has to be safe, which is a major problem. Some of the products that we have seen marketed in Europe are not safe,' he said, pointing to two reported cases of kidney failure in Britain in 1999. The Chinese Medicine Council, set up to regulate the practice in Hong Kong, says it is developing local registration requirements for proprietary Chinese medicines. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: 'The initial view is that proprietary medicines could be classified into different categories with different registration requirements. It is proposed that clinical trials and other evidence will be required to demonstrate the efficacy of new medicines. 'As for efficacy of proprietary medicines with well-established formulae, evidence of traditional use may be adequate,' she said. The European Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine was set up at Middlesex University in collaboration with the State Administration of Traditional Chinese medicine in Beijing to promote evidence-based herbal medicine and advance it in Europe. The centre received a British government grant of GBP136,000 (HK$1.5 million) last year to find herbs to replace tiger bones, rhinoceros horns and bear bile in Chinese medicine.