Natural health products bill quietly scrapped

A bill designed to regulate the natural health products industry has been quietly withdrawn from Parliament before its third reading.

The Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill was introduced 2011 by former Minister of Health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, and was intended to establish regulation for natural health products, including requiring evidence of efficacy.

In May this year, Winston Peters called the bill an “embarrassment” and said it was a bureaucratic double-up of a solution looking for a problem which would kneecap exporters.

“Worse, it seems that pressure for it has come from across the Tasman and we need to tell the Aussies to naff off,” he said.

The bill, which lapsed after Parliament dissolved, was not reinstated this week.

Chair of consumer advocacy group Society for Science Based Health Care, Mark Hanna, said the bill would have helped fill holes in legislation which exposed consumers to misleading health claims.

“If you look at the legislation it looks like it should address this but in reality, it hasn’t. These products which the bill was going to address are effectively unregulated.”

The society, which believes consumers have the right to make informed decisions about their healthcare, works to counter what they believe are misleading or unsubstantiated health claims. They make submissions on legislation and codes, and make complaints.

Currently there are three bodies to complain to, however, natural health products often fall through the cracks.

The Advertising Standards Authority can uphold complaints and ask advertisers to remove misleading claims but - as a self-regulatory body - is unable to enforce its rulings.

Complaints can be made to Medsafe under the Medicines Act. Medsafe has the ability to enforce actions but does not act on every complaint. Complaints regarding low-risk items often go unaddressed.

The Commerce Commission also has the ability to enforce rulings under the Fair Trading Act, but like Medsafe does not act on every complaint.

The proposed natural health products bill set clear guidelines for natural and supplementary products and included penalties for non-compliance ranging between $50,000 and $500,000.

Hanna said he was surprised at the withdrawal of the bill as there had been no communication around it.

“I still want the bill to pass and if it’s not going to be reinstated I want there to be something else to fill that gap. Whether that is a kick up the bum so the existing legislation gets enforced more on these products or a different bill. I don’t really mind as long as we end up with something that will do the job.”

Health Products NZ corporate affairs director Alison Quesnel was also surprised - and disappointed.

“Nobody knew, even the Ministry of Health weren’t aware of it. Nobody knew except whoever made the decision to withdraw the bill from the parliamentary lists.”

Health Products NZ is a national industry organisation representing natural products. 

“It was a very good-looking bill. We’ve been trying to get legislation through for 16 years and this was the closest we’ve ever been to a solution.”

Quesnel said New Zealand is one of the only countries without a modern regulatory system and the legislation would have enabled export, not “kneecap it” as Peters had said.

“Going into China, which is by far the biggest export market, we’ve been told by Chinese that it would be so much better and easier for us if we had a modern regulatory system their government could easily recognise,” Quesnel said.

The value of exports was estimated by the organisation in 2014 to be $285 million and overall value to the economy estimated to be $1.4 billion per year.

Quesnel said she had been contacting politicians since hearing the bill had been scrapped. 

“We’ve written and asked for an explanation. Clearly our next steps will be to follow through with that, and find out which party in the coalition wanted it withdrawn and why, and what we can do to change their mind.”

The bill's withdrawal does not form part of the published coalition agreement.

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