Ottawa Citizen

Health minister decides to go natural, after all

Government to recognize natural health products as distinct under law

- BY SARAH SCHMIDT

In a surprising about-face, Health Minister Tony Clement has agreed to key demands of the natural health products industry after the sector launched a grassroots campaign against restrictio­ns on homeopathi­c medicines and herbal remedies in new legislatio­n.

When Mr. Clement proposed amendments to the Food and Drugs Act in April, natural medicines were lumped in with pharmaceut­ical drugs, raising concerns they would be subject to the same type of oversight. He now admits it was a mistake not to create a separate category under the law.

“My attitude is a bill is a work in progress. Let’s see whether we are clearly getting out the things that we want to do in a particular bill. In this case, obviously protecting the health and safety of Canadians was and remains the motive for the bill,” Mr. Clement said yesterday. But he added it “became clear that some things that we thought were implicit in the bill” needed to be spelled out.

“So, I listened to that, I listened to my own caucus who were getting the feedback from people as well, and to me it was a no-brainer. We can make the bill a better bill,” he said.

The government is now proposing to insert a definition of natural health products into the Food and Drugs Act to “clearly recognize” that they’re distinct from foods and drugs under the law.

“Canadians have clearly expressed the desire to recognize natural health products as a unique category of products,” a ministry background­er states about changes tabled in the House of Commons.

And as a lower-risk product than prescripti­on drugs, the government is proposing other changes to make it clear natural medicines will follow a different process to get to market. The new amendments make explicit mention that traditiona­l knowledge and history of use can be considered for obtaining authorizat­ion to sell a natural health product.

These key changes come after the Canadian Health Food Associatio­n, which represents manufactur­ers, wholesaler­s and retailers in the natural products industry, organized rallies across the country calling for natural health products to be recognized as a consumer product distinct from food and drugs.

Mr. Clement also met last week with associatio­n representa­tives, where they pressed their case.

“We really felt he was listening,” president Penelope Marrett said. “We want to give full credit to the minister for hearing the concerns and trying to find ways to address the concerns.”

Mr. Clement also said the legislatio­n tabled in April needed to be further clarified to assuage concerns about the powers of inspectors to enter healthfood stores and seize their products.

The new amendments clarify that inspectors can only detain a product to identify or prevent a health risk or to prevent inaccurate representa­tions.

 ?? CHRIS WATTIE, REUTERS ?? Tony Clement proposed amendments to the Food and Drugs Act in April.
CHRIS WATTIE, REUTERS Tony Clement proposed amendments to the Food and Drugs Act in April.

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