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Natural health products regulatory system works, says Assaf

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Over the past month, Health Canada officials have crisscrossed the country, consulting Canadians on how they believe self-care products should be regulated and what kind of system our country should have. It is encouraging to see the government hosting sessions to inform, discuss, and solicit feedback from Canadians after online consultations were held in the fall of 2016. Canadians participated in large numbers during the online consultation and were able to have their voices heard again at followup, in-person sessions. It is important for all voices to be heard on this issue. Allowing people to make informed choices that support their healthy lifestyles, and supporting the highest standards of safety and quality for self-care products on which millions of Canadians rely is a shared priority.

As a member of the natural health community and an involved member of the Canadian Health Food Association, I have seen first-hand the effort that has gone into advocating for the government to take the right steps to ensure the integrity and credibility of our world-leading natural health products regulations. As a retailer, I have heard from customers who have voiced their concerns. In Canada, 79 per cent of consumers report using natural health products (NHPs) to support their healthy lifestyles. It is no surprise that many of these people were distressed by the proposal tabled last year, as there were several items of concern. I support building on the strengths of our system, which emphasizes safety, quality, and choice, and I cannot stress enough how important it is for industry to have as much detail as possible about the proposed changes to allow for informed feedback during the consultation process.

Supporters of the plan Health Canada has put forward have said that it is too difficult and, in some cases, costly to get some lower-risk self-care products on store shelves. This is a well-intentioned position, but the solution put forward to categorize all self-care products, namely NHPs, cosmetics, and non-prescription drugs, based on their risk profile into a single framework could pose unintended negative consequences on some products.

Many NHPs have undergone rigorous clinical trials and are supported by scientific evidence. Others have been used in cultures around the world for thousands of years with ample evidence for their safety and effectiveness, while posing little or no risk to Canadian consumers. The current regulatory system works to ensure safety and a diversity of choice in products for people from all cultures. It should stay that way. Health Canada has heard this during their consultations to date, and as someone who talks to Canadians every day, they will continue to hear it.

Robert Assaf
owner, Kardish Health Food Centres
vice-chair, board of directors, Canadian Health Food Association

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