I make my living here in Guelph buying and selling natural health products; things like supplements, vitamins, minerals, traditional medicines, herbal remedies and other similar products. It’s a vibrant and growing business with more than 77 per cent of Canadians now using these products to manage their health and the health of their families. There are more than 10,000 people employed throughout Ontario in manufacturing, testing, distributing and selling natural health products.
I, and the more 115 people who work with me at Purity Life Health Products LP, a distributor of natural health products, care deeply that our retailers have access to these essential products so they can help their customers no matter their age, income or cultural background, access these products and should be able to consider, in consultation with their health care practitioner, all types of evidence when deciding which products to use.
That is why I am alarmed that Health Canada is proposing a massive overhaul of our current natural health product regulations that will exempt some natural health products from review while, at the same time, requiring other products to submit drug-level scientific evidence to get approval.
These radical changes could potentially drive up the cost of these products, make it more difficult for us to get information about them, restrict our freedom of choice and may even result in local job loss.
At the heart of the matter is the debate over the level of evidence required to prove a natural health product’s claim of safety, efficacy and quality. At one end of the debate are those who insist that more product claims be supported by drug level scientific research. At the other end of the debate are those who believe that traditional evidence indicating the product’s history of safe use, often for 1,000s of years, is sufficient for many claims.
When considering these two points of view, it’s worth keeping in mind that according to the World Health Organization, 80 per cent of the world relies on traditional medicines. Around the world, clinical trials have not been required or mandated to prove safety and effectiveness, especially for products and ingredients that have been known to work for generations - traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine are perfect examples.
That’s why I, along with other members of the Canadian Health Food Association, am suggesting that instead of overhauling a system that is working well, and that industry has invested millions of dollars to comply with, Health Canada should simply update the natural health product labels by listing the type of evidence used to support the product’s claims.
This simple change will empower consumers. Enabling them, in consultation with their health care practitioner, to review and consider all types of evidence when deciding to use different types of health products.
Put simply – Let’s adopt a classic Canadian solution by giving consumers the information they need, and respecting their ability to make an informed decision.
More information on this topic and the proposed changes can be found at chfa.ca.
Matthew is the President and CEO of Acton-based Purity Life Health Products LP, which employs 115 people across Canada. Matthew previously served as board chair of the Canadian Health Food Association.