Make it a priority: New Zealand natural health industry urges government to prioritise bill reform

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Natural health products sold in New Zealand are not allowed to make therapeutic claims. ©Getty Images
Natural health products sold in New Zealand are not allowed to make therapeutic claims. ©Getty Images

Related tags: New zealand, Export, Health claims

Trade body Natural Health Products New Zealand is urging the government to prioritise the regulatory reforms concerning natural health products, amid fears that dated, 36-year-old current regulations could be extended by another five years.

The country's Ministry of Health previously said it intended to develop a new regulatory scheme​.

One of the aims is ​to support the natural health products industry and exports by making ​clear and fair rules, and assuring other countries that New Zealand products are safe”, ​according to its statement on its website. 

Natural Health Products NZ is now urging the government to prioritise these reforms by considering the policy work that the Ministry of Health has started.

We understand it is ready to go. We just need the government to pick it up and introduce a bill to Parliament,” ​Natural Health Products NZ’s government affairs director Samantha Gray told NutraIngredients-Asia.

The policies that the Ministry of Health has been drafting are based on the Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill​, which has been renamed to the Natural Health Products Bill. The bill was first proposed in 2011 but was eventually dropped following a change of government in 2017.

“The industry has been frustrated by the lack of progress. We like to see it prioritised because it significantly affects New Zealand consumers and exporters,” ​Gray said.

At the moment, the regulations do not allow natural health products to make therapeutic claims.

This meant that products from New Zealand, when sold in the export markets, are less competitive as compared to similar products from other countries where claims are allowed.

For instance, due to restrictions on health claims, some New Zealand companies have lost export opportunities as the products must comply with New Zealand regulations to be granted a free sales certificate. 

“The issue with the free sales export certificates is that these can only be supplied if the products meet New Zealand regulations and are freely sold in New Zealand. 

“Such product labels may not be able to make health claims that may be permitted in other countries, so this can limit exports,”​ Gray explained.

She highlighted that the natural health products industry has been a growing contributor to New Zealand’s economy, contributing more than NZD$2.3bn (US$1.6bn) each year.

Between 2014 and 2019, exports have increased 125% to NZD$642m (US$456m).

Australia and China are New Zealand’s two largest export markets when it comes to natural health products.

Slightly more than a-third (36%) of the exports went to Australia, while 25% went to China, 12% to North America, followed by 11% to Europe, 12% to Asia, and the remaining to the rest of the world. 

Despite being unable to make therapeutic claims, New Zealand-made products are still sought after in the export markets as they are known for their high standards of production and quality, Gray said.  

“We like to see the regulatory reforms being prioritised because they do affect NZ exporters, consumers, and the natural health products industry has contributed significantly to the economy.

“A modern regulatory reform would undoubtedly raise the growth of natural health products exports,”​ she said.

Old rules only a temporary measure

Gray believes that extending the old rules time and again is only a temporary measure that does not provide actual solutions. 

Under the current regulations, there is  no legislation specific​ to natural health products.

Dietary supplements such as vitamins and mineral tablets are regulated under the Dietary Supplements Regulations 1985 – which are due to expire on March 1 this year. This could be extended by another five years until 1 March 2026 under the Food (Continuation of Dietary Supplements Regulations) Amendment Bill.

The Amendment Bill is currently at​ the second reading. Once it has been read a third time and given the royal assent, it would be adopted.  

On the other hand, a natural health product will be regulated as a medicine under the Medicines Act 1981 if its main purpose is therapeutic. 

The commercial sale and promotion of natural health products are regulated under general consumer legislation, such as the Fair Trading Act 1986 and Consumer Guarantees Act 1993. 

Aside from impacting exports, the continuation of the current regulations also puts consumer safety at risk, since the current regulations do not include a provision for a product recall process, Gray said. 

Stifling innovation

The lack of proper reforms also stifles product innovation, according to Gray. 

“Even if there are scientific evidence showing that these products can bring about health benefits, when companies are not allowed to make claims about those products, innovation is stifled,”​ she said.

She believes that the regulatory change would support innovation and research, in turn helping to boost the industry’s export growth.

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