ARPA Canada (www.arpacanada.ca)
Perhaps you have received an email or read an article about Bill C-51, new legislation which proposes to change the Food and Drugs Act to regulate therapeutic products such as naturopathic medicines. This bill has created quite a stir. Rallies have been organized, websites created, and many in the blogging world are abuzz with anger. ARPA Canada is not an expert on either the legislation or the therapeutic products themselves. The purpose of this article is to raise some of the arguments from both sides of the debate so that readers can be better informed and can rely more on facts than rhetoric, of which there is no short supply for this issue.
Money talks. Those opposed to this legislation like to argue that this bill is the result of rich drug companies who lobby the government to clamp down on their growing competition who sell Natural Health Products (NHP’s). Of course, the same argument can be applied both ways, as those that sell NHP’s also have financial concerns resulting from the regulation of their business.
Some Details on C-51
The text of the bill can be found here. A detailed legislative summary is available on Parliament’s website. It addresses many questions about the extent and purposes of the legislation. The legislative summary explains that “Among other things, the bill creates new offences relating to food, therapeutic products (a new term used in the bill that includes drugs) and cosmetics, requires licences for importing food and for interprovincial trade in food, and makes amendments to the licensing of therapeutic products.”
C-51 has been read for the first time and Parliament is currently consulting the public about it. It will then be examined by a House of Commons committee before going back to the House for Second Reading and a vote. This means that there is time and opportunity for the public to speak with their MP and the Minister of Health about this legislation.
Arguments Against C-51
There are many worries about C-51 as it currently stands. In an attempt to stay objective, this article will simply quote the primary objections as listed by the website www.stopc51.com. According to this site (apparently the people behind it want to stay anonymous) Bill C-51 will:
Allow Government agents to: Enter private property without a warrant (Section 23.4); Confiscate your property at their discretion (Section 23.2 a); Dispose of your property at their discretion (Section 23.3 c); Seize your bank accounts without a warrant; Charge you for shipping and storage of your property (Section 23.3a-b); Store your property Indefinitely without paying you for damages (Section 23.2 d); Levy fines of up to $5,000,000.00 / 2 years in jail per offence. (Section 31.1)
Introduce new legislation that will: Allow laws to be created in Canada, behind closed doors, with the assistance of foreign governments, industrial and trade organizations (Section 30.7); Allow “Crack house style” of enforcement on natural health providers (Section 23.1); Allow enforcement to be considered on more than 70% of Canadians who use NHP’s (Health Canada Reference); Allow the minister, based on opinion, to shut down research without any scientific reason or evidence of risk or harm (Section 18.5); Allow the minister, based on opinion, to allow or disallow market authorizations for Natural Health Products (Section 18.7 (1)).
Arguments For C-51
Health Minister Tony Clement’s First Reading speech of Bill C-51, can be read here.
In response to these accusations and concerns, Member of Parliament Rick Casson (Lethbridge, Alberta) prepared a press release and talking points to local health food retailers. His press release stated:
“‘Rumors circulating as fact throughout southern Alberta suggests that the retail sale and consumer use of Natural Health Products (NHP) will be negatively impacted by C-51 are absolutely false,’ stated Casson. “Simply put, this bill is not focused on NHPs and the modernization of the Act does not disproportionately target NHP products or industry.”
On April 8, 2008 the federal government introduced C-51 as an initial step to strengthen Canada’s safety system for food, health and consumer products. The modernization plan, included in Budget 2008, is supported by a $113 million investment over the next two years.
“When taking into account that Canada’s Food and Drugs Act has been in place for 50 years, it is reasonable to consider that many of its provisions no longer reflect today’s reality,” he commented. “Therefore, we introduced revisions that will provide the tools required to better protect Canadians through a new approach updated for the global economy with a modern approach based on preventing problems, targeting the highest risks and responding rapidly to problems as they arise.”
Casson noted that misconceptions circulating suggest that the proposed legislation will significantly impact the manner in which natural health products are regulated, including that C-51 targets natural health products with increased fines and enforcement actions and additional regulatory hurdles before products are licenced.
“In actuality, Bill C-51 is not intended to alter how NHPs are currently approved for market release, their availability /access to the consumer; or to increase enforcement against the NHP industry,” Casson stated.
He explained that since January 1, 2004 The Natural Health Products Regulations, a regulatory framework specific to natural health products have been in place, which established pre-market requirements for the safety, efficacy and quality of the products and requires a site licence as evidence of compliance with good manufacturing practices in sites where NHP are manufactured, packaged, or labeled.
The fundamental basis for the NHP Regulations remains solid and the NHP framework continues to provide Canadians access to products that are safe, effective and of high quality in a manner that is commensurate with the level of risk.”
There is no doubt that Bill C-51 is an expansive piece of legislation that includes many powers for the government in regard to therapeutic products. There is good reason to question the need for these new powers. And that is exactly what the legislative process is supposed to do. If you are concerned about Bill C-51, try go beyond the rhetoric and speak with your MP so that he or she is aware of your specific concerns and can address them both to you and the Minister of Health. We must be careful to not be alarmed over issues like this, especially when the reason for alarm is built upon unsubstantiated allegations. Then, after research is done and there is still concerns that are not addressed, bring these concerns to the attention of the designated authority – in this case your MP and the Minister of Health.