Is the Natural Health Industry Approaching Its Darkest Hour?
In my opinion, we are on the precipice of a major paradigm shift that will reshape the natural health industry forever. Will the industry survive? Absolutely--and it will adapt and thrive, but it will be a far cry from the days of its inception. The natural roots of our inception grew a healthy tree. However, today‘s health industry has grafted in branches feeding from the essence of the roots, but the fruit produced doesn’t necessarily resemble the original. Its properties are questionable in regards to raw material purity, potency and therapeutic value. Those demarcations that used to be so easy to see are being blurred in the name of regulatory compliance.
Now, under the stewardship of the CHFA, all supplements are now under Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) regulations. To set the record straight so that I am not perceived as opposed to licensing, our entire product line is licensed. Still, no matter what spin is applied, Natural Product Numbers (NPNs) are in a drug subclass. Through a sleight of hand, they are referred to as “natural health products.” This placement should have been fought like hell, but here we are. Food-based supplements don’t require warnings and adverse reactions; they only do if one considers mixing them with prescription medicine. Now, supplement warnings closely resemble those of pharmaceutical drugs. I ask you: who benefits by drug-style warnings? Health Canada is happy, and so is the pharmaceutical industry, and when they smile, I get worried. This new “middle-ground” category raises a whole new set of industry security concerns.
With the new regulations in full swing, how will creativity flourish without patent protection like what is given to the pharmaceutical industry? I can use my experience of Kava Kava as an example. Space is limited to fully explain Kava’s history and downfall from grace. After 10 years of Kava being banned from the Canadian market, I worked with a licensing company with the goal of bringing it back. After 3 1/2 years of submitting clinical evidence, addressing numerous IRN rejections, and spending tens of thousands of dollars, we brought Kava back with a license to be a calmative and a sleep aid. Unlicensed Kava is still classified by Health Canada as high risk, and if a consumer were to become sick using a non-licensed product, that one strike may be enough to permanently remove Kava--licensed or not--from ever being sold again.
Speaking from the heart and from my love of the health industry, we must as an industry support the intellectual efforts of the suppliers. Through their efforts, new products enter the marketplace, and without support or incentive, creativity will cease because there is no reward for their efforts. In the pharmaceutical world, a patent is granted to allow for the recovery of investment. However, NPN’s cannot rely on recovery being granted, but instead must rely on the industry to recognize their contribution and support their efforts until another supplier is granted a similar license.
Another troubling fact is that Canada has the Freedom of Information Act. To obtain an NPN, a supplier spends years compiling research and invests tens of thousands of dollars, plus hundreds of hours. However, a competitor can apply and request that information to be released with little or no effort. Thus far we have had this happen many times. I view this as theft, just like a copyright infringement. Others may see it as free enterprise and an easy opportunity. Maybe I am old school, but it just doesn’t feel right.
With these dangers, will our natural industry remain fruitful in years to come? I guess that depends on our gardening skills and how we prune the tree.