Nutraceuticals is the country’s fastest growing food and beverage sector, but the industry is tired of operating within the constraints of 36-year-old legislation.
The natural health products industry has grown at a rate equal to infant formula, but exporters are being held out of outdated regulation by limiting the way they compete on the global stage.
According to industry body Natural Health Products NZ, which represented 140 businesses, or 85 percent of the sector, nutraceuticals contributed more than $ 2.3b to annual GDP in 2019.
“But we could be much bigger if we did not stick to the old rules,” said its director of government affairs Samantha Gray.
Gray said strong global growth due to consumers seeking generic Wellness products since Covid-19 had been a missed opportunity for the sector because nutraceuticals, a category of natural products that best comply with Dietary Supplements regulations, do not were able to explicitly market the health benefits of their products to health-conscious consumers.
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Nutraceuticals, which are food products that also have evidence-based health benefits, currently fall under the Dietary Supplements Act 1985.
Under this legislation, dietary supplements such as vitamins and mineral tablets are not allowed to be advertised or labeled for any therapeutic benefit.
This meant that a nutraceutical product sold from New Zealand with the same ingredients as an Australian product, could not advertise its health benefits, while the latter could.
“Where we reach the complex area between health and food we are not entirely sure how to define products. We are aware of this dilemma and are trying to move as quickly as possible in this direction, but again, it is the interface with overseas agencies that often cause challenges for us. “
– Damien O’Connor, Minister of Food Safety
Gray said the lack of a specific regulation for nutraceutical products put New Zealand’s natural health products at a significant disadvantage because consumers were more likely to choose products that claimed to help with joint pain, or for example sleep. .
She said there was also no exception for exporters, so companies are selling overseas based on domestic regulations.
“We are out of step with our trading partners,” Gray said.
She said the lack of a cadre also slowed down innovation.
Australia categorized nutraceuticals as “complementary medicine” and regulated them under the 1989 Therapeutic Goods Act.
Its industry was worth about A $ 5.3 billion (NZ 5.5 billion) according to the industry industry peak audit report published in 2019, more than double the value of the New Zealand natural health products industry.
What frustrated them in the natural welfare industry like Gray was that New Zealand was very close to having industry-specific regulations. But the Natural Health Products Bill, which had more than 800 applications, was killed after its second reading in 2017 when the government changed.
“It was nothing but politics. The bill was withdrawn because of NZ First, and since then the Government is wasting everyone’s time. “
– Samantha Gray, Natural Health Products NZ
The bill aimed to establish a system for regulating low-risk natural health products, a regulatory authority within the Ministry of Health, an advisory committee and an online database of natural health products.
Gray and her industry were desperate to revive this bill.
“It was nothing but politics,” she said. “The bill was withdrawn because of NZ First, and since then the Government is wasting everyone ‘s time.”
Gray did it again last week at a trade event led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which was attended by Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor.
O’Connor said the government was aware of the “dilemma” the sector, which lacked proper authority and identity, faced.
“We are very focused first and foremost on food security. “Everything that comes from New Zealand must be safe and protect our reputation as credible certifiers and the people who oversee it,” O’Connor said.
“Where we get to the complex area between health and food, we are not entirely sure how to define products.”
“We are aware of this dilemma and we are trying to move as quickly as possible in this direction, but again, it is the interface with overseas agencies that often causes challenges for us.”
O’Connor also alluded to the Pan Pharmaceuticals debacle that led to the alternative medicine industry in Australia being forced to pay hundreds of millions in compensation for rigged tests for fake results and standard manufacturing processes.
The 2003 Pan Pharmaceuticals commemoration was the largest commemoration of medicines in the world at the time, said the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration. It was found that substandard processes could have increased consumers’ risk of severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis and severe organ damage.
But Gray’s argument was that regulation could limit the risk of something like this happening in the first place.
“The best way for New Zealand companies in the medical cannabis space to survive and thrive would be to produce volume. A bill for natural products would allow this, for example the ability to easily make and sell 20mg capsules. and soft gels. “
– Shane Le Brun, Council of Medical Cannabis
Last year the medical cannabis sector was funding the legalization of recreational cannabis to potentially reduce the cost of the product to patients and to develop nutritional products infused with CBD.
While the referendum on recreational cannabis did not pass, medical cannabis companies were also seeking a framework similar to the Natural Health Products Bill.
Medleaf business development manager Shane Le Brun said that to allow unlicensed access, cannabidiol-filled products had to be out of the drug’s action, and for that there had to be legislation to regulate.
“The best way for New Zealand companies in the medical cannabis space to survive and thrive would be to produce volume. A bill for natural products would allow this, for example the ability to easily make and sell 20mg capsules and soft gel, “said Le Brun.
Le Brun said a natural health bill would also bring a degree of control over the nutraceutical sector and products that may have low-level health claims and benefits.
“For example we have melatonin which is a prescription medicine like a sleep hormone, but it is actually available in small quantities in cherry juice. In many pharmacies they will sell this strong, thick and sour cherry juice. moist as a sleep supplement, but in fact the doses are homeopathic.
“It’s a complete collision that looks at the cost versus the Melatonin content, the prescription drug always wins. So the adjustment would allow that melatonin product to exist and possibly be stronger and more effective while being regulated more safely. . ”