Overhauling Natural Health Product Regulations in Canada

Writer: Teresa Madaleno

It is believed that anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of Canadians use natural health products on a regular basis. A few years ago an Ipsos poll showed that about 36 percent take supplements.

Research seems to suggest that the use of natural products whether it is supplements, vitamins or natural organic personal care products, is likely to keep growing. The natural health product picture is about to change though. That’s because Health Canada is proposing an overhaul of the industry.

unknownRight now manufacturers of natural health products must apply to Health Canada for a license to sell products. They get a special number that has to appear on their product labels to signal the agency’s approval. However, these manufacturers are not required to provide strong evidence that a product works. Under the new proposed system natural health products, including vitamins, minerals, personal care products, natural household cleaners etc. would all be regulated based on potential health risks that they pose.

This proposed system could classify many vitamin, mineral and homeopathic products as “low risk”, which essentially means that Health Canada would not license them. While they may still meet Health Canada’s quality standards, they wouldn’t be able to put disease or prevention claims on their labels. On the other end of the spectrum, some products could be declared “moderate” or “high risk” and would be able to make claims on labels if enough scientific evidence was available to prove those claims.

Some health law and policy experts welcome the change saying that it is high time consumers really understand what it is they are getting. While others are worried about product availability and are left wondering if it is a cash-grab. You see, part of the proposal suggests imposing user fees to companies that want to sell natural health products. Under the current system, these types of user fees don’t apply to natural health products like they do to other non-prescription drugs.

Opponents of the overhaul say they are worried that a new system of regulation will lead to supplements they love disappearing and increase the cost of the products that are left. Studies show the biggest reason people shy away from purchasing natural health products right now is, price.

There are those who feel so strongly about the overhaul that they have been circulating warnings online – encouraging fellow Canadians to reach out to their local MP’s and let them know they do not want an overhaul.

Do you know where you stand on the issue? Health Canada ends it’s public consultation period on the subject next week, (Oct 24th).