Health Canada’s recent onslaught against natural health products is not only jeopardizing the well-being of Canadians but also infringing upon parliamentary authority. With substantial implications for public health and the economy, it’s time for Parliamentarians to recognize their duty to protect products that contribute to healthier lifestyles, a robust economy and support preventative medicine.
Canada’s natural health product approval system is widely regarded as world-class, showcasing the nation’s commitment to consumer safety and well-being. Despite that, Health Canada’s current actions can only be described as an assault on this system, threatening to dismantle its efficacy and reputation.
A clear example of this is the inclusion of NHPs in the proposed powers under Vanessa’s Law, which was introduced in Budget 2023 without proper, stakeholder consultation, debate, or study in Parliament. On top of an abhorrent disregard for procedure, the extension of these powers to NHPs stands in stark contrast to 2014 when it was decided that NHPs would remain exempt from Vanessa’s Law, in favour of the Self-Care Framework. This framework proposed that lower-risk products (over-the-counter medications, cosmetics and NHPs) would be separated from pharmaceutical drugs. Nearly ten years later, this framework remains incomplete, but Health Canada continues to push through regulatory changes, like Vanessa’s Law, in a piecemeal approach that does not consider the overall framework, presents inconsistencies with other lower-risk products, and does nothing to combat foreign, unmonitored, and unregulated products which are easily accessible through international online marketplaces.
In another attempt to regulate an already efficient system, a misguided initiative is underway to overhaul labelling requirements, supposedly to improve legibility for consumers. Despite evidenced-based concerns raised by industry, no effort was made to user test, leverage labelling sciences or engage the use of modern electronic communications. The result has only burdened the industry with unnecessary regulatory constraints, increased packaging waste and done nothing to make the information easier to read.
The natural health product industry is a key contributor to Canada’s economy, injecting a substantial $11.3 billion into the GDP and sustaining over 54,000 jobs, primarily in small and medium-sized businesses. Yet, Health Canada’s regulatory initiatives are inflicting uncertainty and potential financial losses upon these enterprises. Such reckless actions will undoubtedly stifle growth and curtail consumer choice, undermining the economic prosperity of the nation.
The sad reality for the Canadian economy is that the regulatory burden on NHP products and retailers drives Canadian consumers to purchase their goods from international markets. Ultimately, Health Canada is overburdening Canadian NHP producers and retailers and restricting their ability to participate freely in our markets.
They do this while simultaneously refusing to stop the importation of NHPs from abroad, claiming that they are protecting “consumer choice.” If they really wanted to protect consumer choice, they would do more to encourage Canadians to shop within Canadian markets.
In the face of Health Canada’s unilateral decision-making, Members of Parliament must assert their authority, demanding full transparency and accountability for these regulatory changes. The will of the people and the principle of democratic governance depends on it.
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*Source: Economic Contribution Study of Canada’s Natural Health Product Sector. May 2023.