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'Health freedom' groups win extension for feedback on natural health product regulations

Wednesday 10th February 2016

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The government has extended the deadline for feedback on regulations for a bill that will create a register and regulator for natural health products, a proposed law that's awaiting its third reading after more than a decade in the making, 

The deadline for comment on regulations for the Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill has been extended by a month to March 4. The bill, which has the support of Natural Products NZ, an umbrella group that represents about 90 percent of the $1.4 billion industry, missed the cut for a final reading in the pre-Christmas legislative logjam.

Natural Products NZ says the regulatory regime will help boost exports and provide assurance to consumers that products are safe but other groups have been warning that people will lose access to alternative therapies

Health Freedom New Zealand, whose website includes content warning of the dangers of fluoridation of water and vaccines is a vocal critic. In a statement last month, the group said the bill would mean consumers "will no longer be able to purchase some products that they currently use to keep themselves well". It says the current "black list" of banned ingredients will be replaced with a "white list" of permitted ingredients which would exclude many products with "no history of risk to human health". Opponents were able to get consultation on the regulations extended, saying they hadn't had enough time.

Natural Products NZ executive director Alison Quesnel says she is disappointed at what she called scaremongering and misinformation over the proposed law change. The register already has some 5,500 ingredients approved for use in natural remedies and supplements and the list is expected to increase to some 7,500.

To get the bill to its third reading stage has already required a big push both by industry groups, the Ministry of Health and associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, because the concept of natural and traditional remedies has been opposed by powerful lobbies including the Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Society and by Peter Gluckman, the prime minister’s chief science adviser. They argue the efficacy of such products isn't supported by medical research and preys on people's concerns about their health.

But Dunne says forcing products to be notified on a public register and having a regulator within the Ministry of Health to assess ingredients, health claims and any supporting evidence for natural health products will go a long way to minimising "quackery or snake-oil" and provide assurance for consumers.

Among recent amendments to the bill is to allow health practitioners to prescribe natural health products to clients during one-on-one consultations even if their ingredients aren't on the approved list and the products aren't deemed suitable for over-the-counter sales.

Natural health products are high-margin items that are grabbing an increasing share of shelf space in pharmacies and other retailers as some people become disenchanted with mainstream medicines. Companies riding the wave of popularity for alternative remedies include Comvita, which exports manuka honey products. Its shares have soared almost 500 percent in the past five years on surging sales to markets such as China.

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