Latimer: Labelling alternative health products

Until now, these products have been allowed to sit on pharmacy shelves next to conventional treatments and make whatever claims they choose

Latimer: Labelling alternative health products

In the midst of the media frenzy surrounding the recent US election and its fallout, it’s hard to imagine our neighbours to the south having anything else on their radar right now.

In reality, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is currently making positive changes when it comes to the labeling and promotion of alternative health products –  and Canada would be wise to follow suit.

For decades, conventional health professionals have expressed concern over the lack of regulations surrounding alternative health products and services. Whereas any conventional treatment requires rigorous research and evidence to support its claims, alternative products and services have been largely exempt from these requirements.

Finally, in a move toward rectifying this issue, the FTC is requiring homeopathic remedies to provide “competent and reliable scientific evidence” for all health claims – including claims a particular product can treat specific conditions.

Under the FTC’s new regulations, if a homeopathic remedy doesn’t have the evidence to support it, it will have a label indicating, “1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and 2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.”

Until now, these products have been allowed to sit on pharmacy shelves next to conventional treatments and make whatever claims they choose.

Homeopathy is a particularly appropriate example of an area of alternative health that is a lucrative business in need of evidence to back it up. Based on a theory from several hundred years ago that like cures like, homeopathic products are made using trace elements of substances that can cause symptoms. These substances are extremely diluted in water and then sold as remedies.

Many studies have shown there is no evidence to support homeopathy as an effective cure for anything, yet it continues to be marketed and sold alongside proven treatments.

This move by the FTC in the US is a first step toward properly regulating the alternative health industry and requiring the same standards of evidence needed by conventional health products.

Health Canada currently has different regulations for different kinds of products – resulting in uneven rules and sometimes very different requirements for products making similar claims.

Fortunately, our government will soon be releasing a new framework for Canada’s regulations in this area. Let’s hope new regulations will require all health products to be transparent in their labeling and efficacy claims. This will only help consumers make safer and more informed health decisions.

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