Phil Rasmussen is the founder of a company manufacturing herbal extracts and a registered herbal medicine practitioner. He is also a board member of Natural Products NZ, the industry group that represents more than 80% of this country's natural products companies.
Emotions about the Natural Health Products Bill (until recently called the Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill) are running high in some quarters but it is important to sort the fact from the fiction when considering what it really means for consumers and the natural health products industry.
The Natural Health Products Bill aims to regulate natural health products that are sold and marketed directly to consumers, not those prescribed or made available through trained health practitioners.
My business is typical of those that will be most affected by the bill and its associated regulations. Our company's roots are embedded in growing a robust New Zealand herbal manufacturing and exporting business, so I personally and professionally have a keen interest to ensure that the bill is fair and workable for consumers, the industry, and natural health and traditional medicine practitioners alike.
People could be forgiven for getting worried about the doom and gloom claims being bandied around about the bill, including assertions that large numbers of natural health products will disappear from shelves, costs will sky-rocket, businesses will go under and bureaucracy will burgeon.
Such claims are simply not true.
In reality the bill proposes to establish a very lightweight regulatory agency and much lower bar than the previously mooted ANZTPA (Australia and NZ Therapeutic Products Agency). Proposed manufacturing standards are much more lenient, the process for product approval is more straightforward, and the cost per product to industry (and thus end users), will be much less.
It is also not true that the bill will severely restrict the ingredients as well as doses allowed in natural health products.
The Ministry of Health's list of permitted ingredients already contains more than 5500 individual ingredients, and an expert committee consisting of more than 20 academic, industry and practitioner experts has been appointed to appraise more than 200 others that have been notified. Reasonable processes have been put in place for new ingredients to be added in future.
This list will include anything that is already accepted as a safe food ingredient, provided that dosage levels do not exceed current legal limits.
Importantly, the Natural Health Products Bill does not set out to establish new current legal limits for the vast majority of ingredients. Where new legal limits are applied then it will be possible to get those levels reviewed at no cost before the regulations come into force (even after this stage costs will be kept at affordable levels).
This contradicts Professor Julia Rucklidge's assertion in relation to products with ingredients not (yet) allowed under the bill or products making a therapeutic claim for a serious condition.
She wrongly claims that sellers of products with ingredients containing more than currently permitted levels (for example, more than 100mg of potassium) would have to prove that it had medicinal properties and therefore pay $88,875 to register it.
I checked with Medsafe, which advises that under the bill nothing will change in relation to current legal limits on ingredients and what must or need not be classified under the Medicines Act.
People could be forgiven for getting worried about the doom and gloom claims being bandied around about the bill.
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It went on to note that the maximum fee for approval of an over-the-counter medicine under the Medicines Act only would be $7650. Significantly lower fees will apply to ingredients approved under the bill.
Over the past few years, I have extensively discussed the bill and its implications with a wide range of companies, practitioners and regulators.
In my observation, the Ministry of Health has bent over backwards to try to accommodate the vast majority of natural health products that are sold in New Zealand and has made every effort to take the sector's views into account.
I am therefore curious to know why a small handful of companies believe that they will no longer be able to sell more than 50 per cent of their products once the bill comes into effect. It would help everyone if they came forward and openly discussed the reasons for these concerns rather than giving consumers the mistaken impression that the bill heralds doom and gloom for all.
The bill is actually good news for consumers because it will allow far more information to be included on product labelling thus helping people to make a more informed decision about natural health products. It will also give consumers a greater level of assurance that products are safe and that the product in the bottle is in fact what the label says it is.
The vast majority of products will still be available and there is no good reason why prices shouldn't stay about the same as they are now.
The bill is long overdue, and will also greatly benefit companies that are exporting natural products, because it will bring New Zealand into line with a number of key markets that have similar requirements.
Just because someone is shouting loudly about something doesn't mean they are right and it doesn't mean that they represent the majority view.
In reality the vast majority of New Zealand's natural health products manufacturers - from very large companies to small manufacturers such as my own - actually support this legislation because we believe it will be good for business, good for consumers, good for the growing local natural health industry, and therefore good for New Zealand's economy.