Industry Body to Select Committee: we have no choice but to support poor legislation

The body representing New Zealand’s natural health industry has told a Select Committee that it only supports the proposed legislation because there is no other choice.

Natural Health Products NZ conveyed its frustrations during its oral submission to the Primary Production Committee regarding the Natural Health Products Food (Continuation of Dietary Supplements Regulations) Amendment Bill.

Natural Health Products NZ is a national industry organisation representing this country’s natural health products, functional foods, complementary medicines, cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals industries. With over 140 members, Natural Health Products NZ represents around 85% of the sector.  Members include product manufacturers, suppliers, and branded goods companies.

In making her oral submission, Natural Health Products NZ’s Government Affairs Director Samantha Gray said the industry viewed the Continuation of Dietary Supplements amendment as a stop gap measure.

“The regulations are shockingly out-of-date but we have no choice but to very reluctantly support the Bill in order to ensure that there’s at least some kind of regulation in place for natural health products.  At best it is a case of “something is better than nothing – but only just.”

“Our industry has been calling for a modern regulatory regime over the past 20 years, an issue that is becoming increasingly urgent given the chilling effect the situation is having on export market growth.”

More than two decades have passed since the industry first began agitating for updated regulations.  The Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill was introduced a decade ago but languished on the Order Paper for many years. It finally lapsed when the new Parliament did not adopt it, following the change of government in late 2017.

Ms Gray says this has left New Zealand as the OECD’s only country without a modern regulatory system for natural health products, putting us out of step with our trading partners.

“I have seen examples of local businesses receiving export offers for innovative new products that use unique local ingredients, only to discover they cannot export the products because New Zealand’s standards don’t comply with regulations in comparable jurisdictions such as Australia, the US or Dubai.

“It’s absolutely heart-breaking, especially given many of our members are small businesses who are greatly affected by lost opportunities such as these.”

The outdated regulations also make it illegal to give consumers the information they need to know about products.  For example, a member produces two identical products with the active ingredient Curcuma longa Longvida® – one version in New Zealand and one in Australia. The Australian version can make the claim that it: “decreases mild joint aches and pains” and “relieves inflammation”, whereas the New Zealand-labelled product can only say: “promotes general health and wellbeing”. 

Not being able to inform local or export market consumers about natural health products’ true functions puts consumers at a disadvantage, and also disadvantages exporters.

“This is a big problem with major markets such as China,” says Ms Gray.

She goes on to note that the current regulations make it harder to police safety standards and protect consumers from rogue operators because there is no provision for a recall process.

None of the issues are fixed by the Natural Health Products Food (Continuation of Dietary Supplements Regulations) Amendment Bill currently being considered by select committee.

Natural Health Products NZ is therefore calling on the Government to give priority to enacting a modern regulatory system that will:

  • Provide higher assurance for consumers regarding product safety and efficacy
  • Enable consumers to find out more about products they are buying and become better informed about how to improve their health
  • Remove export barriers by demonstrating New Zealand has world-class regulatory, compliance and audit systems
  • Enable the industry to expand faster, employ more people and contribute more to the economy, especially in the regions
  • Make it harder for questionable products to be marketed and sold here

Ms Gray notes the industry is a significant and growing contributor to New Zealand’s economy, contributing more than $2.3 billion per annum.

“We cannot have another three-year term of delays. This stop-gap Bill needs to be followed by a new law that will give us the modern regulation our industry – and the country – needs.

“The Ministry of Health has done the policy work on new, modern regulations and we understand it is ready to go.

“It’s well and truly time for the Government to pick it up and introduce a Bill to Parliament,” she says.