05 November 2012

An opportunity to improve consumer safety has been missed with the reporting back of the Natural Health Products Bill, says the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA).

The Bill provides for regulation of commercial natural health products.

“The NZMA is disappointed that the Bill, as written, does not provide stronger protections for consumers,” says NZMA Deputy Chair Dr Mark Peterson.

“At present, health claims cannot be made for natural health products. This Bill allows claims to be made for particular conditions, but these claims do not need to be based on scientific evidence. Acceptable evidence has now been extended to include traditional use.

“There is no pre-market assessment of claims – just a self-notification system.  Evidence will only be examined if there are issues with claims or safety concerns.”

Dr Peterson said it appeared that a populist approach had been taken instead of a scientific one.

“There is also no requirement to have medical expertise on the advisory committee to the authority.”

The NZMA supports having a two tier system like in Australia, where higher risk substances undergo pre-market evaluation for quality, safety and efficacy.

The NZMA believes complementary and alternative medicine products should be subject to the same evidence-based scientific testing that conventional medicines face. If this does not happen, those promoting alternative treatments should not make unproven claims about their efficacy.

Unless people have all the relevant information about a product or treatment, they are not in a position to make an 'informed choice'. Relevant information includes scientific-based evidence about the expected benefits, side effects and risks.