The Canadian Health Food Association is the voice of the Canadian natural health products industry. Learn about their public awareness campaign.
Doug Portley calls himself a holistic fellow; he buys organic produce and shops at his local natural health retailer for vitamin D, probiotics, and fish oils. But when asked if he’s heard of the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), he looks puzzled. “I think so,” he says, “I’m not sure.”
In fact, Portley has participated in one of the CHFA’s most recent efforts, the implementation of the Save Our Natural Health Products campaign (see sidebar) to rally awareness about troubling regulatory issues the industry has been facing for years. He wrote a letter to politicians after seeing a postcard that the CHFA devised for retailers to distribute to shoppers.
“Yes, that’s the one,” Portley says, referring to an identical postcard he picks up from a nearby free information table. “And my MP even wrote me back.”
While Portley may not be aware of all of the CHFA’s mandates and activities, like all consumers of natural health products (NHPs), he is affected by the association’s efforts on behalf of its members and community.
Canada’s $3.5 billion natural health products and organics industry is a force to be taken seriously, as is the fact that it employs 25,000 people from coast to coast. Naturally, this growth is accompanied by a need for increased organization and maintenance—a role the CHFA has helped fulfill since its early beginnings as the Health Food Dealers Association in 1964, which became the CHFA in 1978.
As the country’s largest trade association dedicated to natural health and organic products, the CHFA represents more than 1,000 manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, distributors, growers, and importers of natural and organic products.
A lot of CHFA work has been behind the scenes—working with government, developing recommendations, and helping to hammer out regulatory affairs. The NHP industry has been facing stressful regulatory challenges since the government implemented the new Natural Health Products Regulations in 2004.
Last year’s launch of the Save Our Natural Health Products campaign is a rare instance in which the CHFA has attempted to mobilize consumers directly. And the result has been positive, according to Helen Sherrard, director of operations for the CHFA.
Draft regulatory amendments to the Natural Health Products Regulations were published in the Canada Gazette in May 2010. “This will help ensure that a lot of products in the licensing queue will become legal,” Sherrard said in a phone interview, adding that if all goes well, the regulatory changes could kick in as early as late July 2010.
“We want consumers to have access and choice but also support reasonable regulations in line with the low-risk nature of natural health products,” she said.
Educating about safety
According to most experts in the natural health industry, the low-risk message of the CHFA is a crucial one for the public.
The problem, as they see it, is the average person believes the government is implementing regulations because natural health products aren’t currently safe. This is not the case.
The safety and quality of natural health products has been well studied and documented over the years. In fact, research is very important to this industry and the clinical evidence continues to grow.
Sherrard of the CHFA echoes this sentiment about the role that NHPs play in maintaining and achieving optimal health. “Educating people about what they can achieve [by] is important,” Sherrard said.
Accordingly, the CHFA has launched a new public awareness campaign that directly targets consumers. Association spokespeople are doing more media interviews and public service announcements. For social media fans, the CHFA has started Facebook and Twitter pages.
This new national initiative seeks to underline to consumers and government decision makers the importance of high quality natural health products, as well as a wide selection of high quality organic products to the overall health of Canadians.
Central themes of the campaign will include highlighting the long-term value of preventive health measures, high quality natural health products, as well as a wide selection of high quality organic products, up-to-date research on key industry products, and educating consumers on the safety and efficacy of natural health products.
Earlier this year, the CHFA also partnered with InspireHealth (inspirehealth.ca), a world-renowned, integrated cancer care facility in Vancouver. Together they generated a research newsletter for CHFA members and shoppers about the anticancer benefits of vitamin D, calcium, green tea, and soy.
Sherrard says this campaign is in the early stages, although they’re noticing increased traffic on their Facebook page and website. While the CHFA website is not a consumer site, Sherrard recommends that consumers visit the websites of consumer magazines such as alive.com and their local natural health retailers to obtain reliable information.
Given that, according to Sherrard, three-quarters of Canadians use an NHP daily, the large scale of this public campaign is well timed to contribute to positive change at a regulatory level—and in the lives of natural health enthusiasts.
Anyone who is concerned about the importance of natural health products in their lives is encouraged to contact the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, and their member of Parliament to let them know that:
Write a letter or email
Historically, personal letters are one of the most effective ways to encourage and support meaningful change.
Letters to MPs don’t require postage. Not sure who your MP is? Enter your postal code at www2.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo to find out.
The lethargic licensing process
The federal government’s Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) is responsible for receiving NHP licence applications from the natural health products industry.
From 2004 to 2009:
Visit the CHFA website at chfa.ca for regular updates.
Telephone or visit
Call your local MP and make an appointment to discuss NHP regulations. MPs are extremely sensitive to economic issues. Also ask them to meet with the Minister of Health on your behalf and to contact you regarding the outcome of the meeting.