Canadian health products bill draws criticism

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Dietary supplements Food and drug administration Nutrition

Legislative amendments being fast-tracked through the Canadian
parliament that place pharmaceutical controls on the dietary
supplements industry are raising alarm among industry.

The amendments to the Food and Drugs Act (Bill C-51) will make it more difficult for dietary supplements to achieve natural health product status by subjecting them to costly pharma-style registration procedures. It also threatens to increase penalties for transgressors. Canada updated the way it regulates natural products in 2004 by introducing a Directorate that attempted to create a category for dietary supplements in their own right but its implementation has not been smooth. Industry says the amendments will further compromise the dietary supplements category and restrict consumer access to natural health products. In protest, rallies have been held in Alberta, British Columbia and Toronto. "NHPs are low-risk products that are neither foods nor drugs,"​ said Canadian Health Food Association president Penelope Marrett, "a conclusion accepted by the House of Common's Standing Committee on Health in 1998 but that has yet to be honored."​ The Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) covers herbal remedies, homeopathic and traditional medicines, probiotics, amino acids and essential fatty acids, all of which have to be issued with a license before they can be sold. There has been some confusion over the NHPD, since a health claim based on ingredients means a product is a "natural health"​ product - even though it may also be marketed as food or drink. Health Canada had put the processing of these food and beverage license submissions on hold while it decided which jurisdiction these products should fall under. The C-51 Bill's advocates say it protects consumer safety and will not result in the removal of products from shelves. "We have to protect Canadians from the one per cent that are the bad apples,"​ said Health Minister Tony Clement. "And if there are some elements of this industry that think they will go unregulated while other aspects of health care are regulated, such as pharmaceutical products, that's just not on."​ Ian Stewart, the director of regulatory affairs at Canadian supplier Truehope, told Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail​, the authorizations would be "so onerous that these products are just going to be illegal in the marketplace or will be removed from the marketplace."​ He added: "The issue with this bill is really around the enforcement, the definitions and the restrictions for natural health products on the marketplace."​ Canada's regulatory troubles lie in the fact no major modernization of its food and drug laws occurred for about 50 years. The mooted changes to how dietary supplements are regulated in Canada comes at a time when the US industry is dealing with a petition lodged by GlaxoSmithKline the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that seeks to outlaw weight loss claims for dietary supplements. The FDA has 180 days to respond that petition.

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