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Natural Health Products-The Third "Drug?

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The government has shown little leadership in regard to natural health products until recently

The government has shown little leadership in regard to natural health products until recently. Last year it implemented the Office of Natural Health Products. It also created a "third category" of regulations, which exists within the food and drug framework. The government would have us believe that this third category is a solution, but will it protect our national health products, as well as our rights and freedoms to choose those products?

Even with the third category, the definition of natural health products still fits into the category of drugs. This is confusing for consumers and demonstrates how the government continues to squeeze natural health products into a drug framework. The federal government's drug definition is "any substance or mixture of substances, which is intended to treat, mitigate or prevent an abnormal physical state or its symptoms or to restore, correct or modify organic functions in man or animals. Dietary and nutritional supplements containing substances for the prevention or treatment of diseases are regulated as drugs."

Under this definition anything can be made into a drug even water. Apparently nothing (not even the third category) will protect any substance from being moved from a natural health product category to a drug category.

Health freedom organizations are protesting the third category deeming it unnecessary. They believe natural health products should not be classified as drugs, or pseudo-drugs, but as therapeutic foods. Under a "therapeutic foods" banner, natural health products would not be confused with the drugs' classification.

Don't Believe All You Read

The "third category" of regulations is proving to be most confusing, especially given the hurricane of intense economic, social, political and global pressures, which picks up speed every day. Confusion is the ultimate weapon of control and manipulation. Most Canadians, especially those suffering from illness, do not know what and who to believe or where to turn when they become ill. They are left in limbo and are often left to fend for themselves.

The federal government does not lead or support its own citizens in regard to preventive and holistic medicine. They have taxed natural health products with GST. Another tax, PST, is soon to be added. Companies are alreday forced to label natural health products with unnecessary and expensive drug identification numbers. All this will lead to the shutting down of many small businesses that are denied medical insurance coverage of supplements, Individuals are also denied coverage for visits to naturopathic doctors, even when a natural remedy would be cheaper than pharmaceutical medication. In fact naturopathic education is not supported. (It costs $13,000 per year for four years, after graduating with a science degree.)

In 1991 Health Canada eliminated a natural health product quality control laboratory because of government cuts. Health Protection Branch agents harass natural health product store owners, by indiscriminately taking high quality products off the shelves. (Soon there will not be much left to protect!) It's hard to believe that the government, with this kind of history, would be able to understand and fairly assess natural health products within any category. Yet it's trying to give the public the superficial appearance of accepting and supporting dietary supplements.

An Issue of Control

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is against the third category. The Association opposes any unique regulatory approach to natural health products. It believes that they should be held to the same standards as pharmaceutical drugs. (See the CMA website: cma.ca/advocacy/political/index.htm). The CMA doesn't want a third category because they want total control over the products, although they say it's for safety reasons. Natural health products have an incredibly safe record, as opposed to pharmaceutical drugs. This pushing of natural health products into a drug category is really overkill one which turns them into pseudo-drugs and gives people less choice and less quality with enormous expense. The question looms, is the CMA concerned with natural health product safety and research or is it more of an issue of control?

The College of Physicians and Surgeons has no tolerance for doctors who wish to incorporate natural and traditional medicine into their practices and to respect and listen to their patients wishes when it comes to health care. Often such doctors are punished and their licenses are taken away. More and more "traditional" doctors and other health care professionals believe that the third category is a pseudo-drug category, restricting the rights of patients.

It's Time for a Change

Even those individuals supporting the third category wonder whether the federal government is competent enough to fairly and adequately handle natural health products, especially given their history and ties to multinational interests. Whether you are for or against this legislation, most would agree that Canadian citizens deserve clear and accurate information, as well as guidance and support in obtaining access to a diversity of high quality, safe products at reasonable prices. The third category, likely brought about by good intentions, hard work and the abysmal treatment of natural health products by government, has some positive aspects. It increases education, applies health claims and provides guidance. It also gets rid of drug identification numbers on natural products, as well as makes sure that there are people in government who understand these products. But this can occur without third category regulation. It can occur within the present food category, under therapeutic food form products. This protects it from drug classification.

If we are to become healthier as individuals and as a society, we must adopt healthy values, a preventive and holistic paradigm of health and allow people the right to freedom of choice in health care. Change will come as Canadians speak out to their members of provincial and federal parliament and health care professionals. They should join health freedom organizations, such as the Health Action Network Society (hans.org). Change will come through grassroots incentives.

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