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Is There a Risk of Natural Medicines Being Regulated to Extinction?

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The natural health industry is currently going through revisions in New Zealand and Canada. On July 19th, New Zealand passed the Therapeutic Products Bill, which will come into effect in 2026. Similarly, on June 22nd, Bill C-47 received Royal Assent in Canada, introducing amendments to the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) regarding Natural Health Products (NHPs). It will take effect in 2025. The New Zealand government described their bill as a means of replacing and modernizing regulatory arrangements for medicines, as well as providing appropriate regulation for medical devices and therapies that were previously unregulated.

In Canada, the new regulations aim to ensure clear labeling for easier understanding of safety information by consumers and health professionals. However, according to the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), Health Canada has developed a very technical and inflexible guidance document that brands find difficult to comply with. Joe D’Addario, CEO of Nature’s Emporium, a health food supermarket, expressed concerns stating that the proposed changes would severely harm the natural health food industry in Canada. He added that these changes could reduce the competitiveness of Canadian natural health product producers and force consumers to seek alternatives outside the country.

In New Zealand, similar challenges are expected. Smaller companies will face additional financial burdens, and passing on these costs could lead to a loss of market share and profit, potentially leading to the closure of many companies. Furthermore, difficulties may arise in importing quality NHPs from overseas or bringing New Zealand NHPs and ingredients to market.

Dr. Ayesha Verrall, the Minister of Health, has stated that the bill includes an exemption scheme for small-scale natural health product manufacturers and removes obligations that could have applied to traditional Māori medicine practitioners and activities. However, this exemption scheme might also face challenges due to bureaucratic obstacles. Rongoā practices will be governed by an advisory committee established to provide advice to the regulator in determining practitioners and activities within the scope of the provision.

Dr. Guy Hatchard, in an article for the Expose, criticized the New Zealand bill for its lack of detail and discretionary power given to a new regulator who will oversee all natural health products, including low-risk foods such as turmeric, barley grass, and spirulina. Dr. Hatchard mentioned the historical use and safety record of these herbs, questioning the regulator’s expertise in deciding the safety of these products. He also highlighted a previous list that was drawn up to ban certain herbs in 2016, indicating that the new regulator might adopt this list in the future.

This situation of prohibiting and controlling natural products may extend beyond New Zealand and Canada, as the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) plays a role in creating regulations for medicines globally. The global natural supplements market, valued at US$152.3 billion in 2022, pales in comparison to the pharmaceutical industry valued at US$1.48 trillion in the same year.

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