Great move by Health Canada

The Canadian health agency seems to be about to make a significant strike against pseudo-science:

Health Canada rules ask for science behind natural health products’ claims

The federal government is planning some pretty major changes to the way it regulates non-prescription drugs, natural health products and cosmetics. The move is designed to simplify the rules and help assure consumers the products on store shelves “are safe and do what they claim to do,” according to Health Canada’s consultation document outlining the proposed new framework.

It appears the biggest impact would be felt by Canada’s multi-billion-dollar natural health products industry, which includes vitamins, minerals, supplements and homeopathic solutions. Under the new rules, companies that want to put health claims on their labels would need to provide scientific evidence and Health Canada will determine whether there is sufficient proof to warrant the claim. It’s a substantial change from the current system, under which Health Canada grants licences to all approved natural health products licenses and allows them to make a variety of health claims, which serve as important marketing tools.

To me, this seems like a very reasonable policy. If someone makes a claim, they should be able to provide evidence supporting the claim.

Unsurprisingly, those making a living of making false claims, disagree.

According to Canada’s natural health products industry, the proposed changes will make natural health product makers meet the same regulations as prescription drugs and that the rules will force many products Canadians rely on to disappear from the market. Shortly after the proposal was released in September, the Canadian Health Food Association launched a social media campaign and petition calling on the government to “save our supplements.”

Proponents of natural health products say these changes mean vitamins and minerals would have to meet the same standards as drugs in order to be approved and that it would drive countless products from the market. Some online commenters even claim that Big Pharma is the driving force behind these changes, as that industry would benefit from putting the natural health products industry out of business.

On its website, the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) claims the new framework will reduce oversight of products and restrict information available to consumers as well as increase the costs of vitamins, minerals and other natural products. In an interview, association president Helen Long said the current regulatory framework is working fine and warned these changes could threaten the availability of natural health products.

“I think both members [of the association] and the public are concerned that they will be able to continue to access the products they know and they trust,” she said.

Ms. Long added that there’s “legitimate concern” that fewer products will be available because of Health Canada’s heavy-handed approach. She added the industry has concerns about the fact the proposal document mentions fees for companies that want to make health claims, as that would pose a financial burden to natural health product makers.

The arguments are, of course, bullshit. Supplements and similar products have all too long gotten away with making outrageous claims about their effectiveness. Now, they have to put up or shut up. What will happen, is that the providers of supplements and similar products will have to remove their claims, and the consumers will become aware that those claims aren’t backed up by science. Some will continue to buy them, but I hope a lot of people will stop.

Given the outrageous markup on these types of products, I find it incredible insulting that Ms. Long tries to make this into a question of costs.

It should be noticed that the move is also aimed at cosmetics, but it doesn’t seem that the cosmetic industry are pushing back. It almost makes it seem like the “natural health” industry has something to hide, doesn’t it?


  1. Siobhan says

    It helps that cosmetics don’t typically make health claims, or the ones that do tend to keep it low to the ground a la “this will reduce your acne,” which can be pretty widely interpreted. It’s mostly just “this will make you look pretty” followed by letting the consumer decide what pretty means. 😛

    As an immunologist, the one product I get mention of that makes my blood boil is Cold FX. I get the urge to start flipping tables while screaming “the only thing that ‘boosts’ the immune system is the god damn immune system!”

  2. smrnda says

    I notice a careful choice of words : this move from Health Canada will remove products that consumers ‘know and trust’ from pharmacy shelves. It begs the question of why consumers know or trust these products. If there is any reason for consumers to do so, and if this stuff from Big Naturopathy can really deliver just as well as Big Pharma, then having real tests performed will finally mean that the claims on the package are backed up with science. If they work, no loss of business.