The proposed Therapeutic Products Bill seeks to establish a regulator that will be empowered to take decisions and control how natural products that appear to benefit health are manufactured, prescribed, imported, advertised, supplied and exported.
NZ Health Minister Andrew Little said: "It will enable New Zealand to take advantage of advances in medicine, such as cell and tissue therapies, emerging gene therapies, and the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning software. Having risk-proportionate approval systems will improve access to necessary and life-saving medicines, such as vaccines in a pandemic."
If the bill passes, a new regulator or an independent statutory officer will be appointed by the director general of the Ministry of Health and shall be responsible for ensuring the safety, quality and efficacy of natural products. The appointed official will design and implement proportionate, risk-based market authorization pathways. Its functions will include market authorization, licensing-controlled activities, post-market surveillance and compliance.
Some experts expressed concerns about the NZ government's agenda behind the bill.
According to Dr. Guy Hatchard, an international advocate of food safety and natural medicine and a former senior manager at global food testing company Genetic ID (now known as FoodChain ID), there's no evidence that people are being harmed by natural products under current regulations.
"This is an area where the government has no need to tighten regulations," he said.
The bill, introduced to the parliament on November 30, 2022, aims to regulate the natural health products used by more than 50 percent of the nation's population. (Related: Proposed 'Natural Health Products Bill' in New Zealand would fine individuals $50,000 for making a cup of unapproved herbal tea.)
According to the website of NZ's Health Ministry, natural health products are not risk-free. They are generally lower-risk products than medicines and higher-risk than foods with similar ingredients.
"Regulations can help ensure: products contain safe ingredients at a safe dose, high-quality manufacturing processes are in place to provide assurance that products are not contaminated, product information is clear on the use and recommended dose, health claims are based on evidence, and New Zealand producers are in a positive position in the global marketplace," the site stated.
However, Hatchard believes that the Labor Party is just trying to gain control of the food supply as this is already the third attempt of the party to introduce extreme regulation on choosing medical care, supplements and diet. Their earlier two attempts failed because of vocal public opposition. In 2017, they pushed for a prohibited list of 300 common herbal ingredients, including aloe vera, eggplant, tamarind, betel nut, almond, coconut, castor, hibiscus, camphor, jasmine, mustard and cinnamon.
"Many of these products like cinnamon and mustard are currently sold in shops," Hatchard said. "Natural products that are beneficial to health cannot be patented, but synthetic copies can be. To make this work, the products that grow in gardens need to be banned."
The Labor Party and Health Ministry did not make this list up. It was supplied by the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA), which is largely funded by the pharmaceutical industry.
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