The anti-vitamin bill

Anna Wu

There is currently a bill before Parliament that could significantly change the way all natural health products are regulated. Virtually everyone has used, uses or will use a range of therapeutic products and medicines in their lives. The Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill has had minimal media attention, but it is likely to affect more of us than the Anti-Smacking Law ever will.

Many people are opposed to the bill, but there have been recent attempts by the government to try and find a compromise.

What’s the Bill proposing?
NZAussieThe bill looks at creating a joint trans-Tasman (Australian and New Zealand) regulatory scheme for the regulation of natural health products products. Standards will be set to control their quality, safety, efficacy (whether the product does what it says it does) and performance. The manufacture, supply, import and promotion will also be monitored.

Who’s finding this Bill hard to swallow?
The National Party, ACT New Zealand, Greens, Maori Party and Independent Taito Philip Field are all against the Bill. In fact, in December last year the Bill’s first reading scraped through by only one vote. The public has also voiced their concern with several nation-wide marches this year organised and attended by 100s of people who oppose this legislation.

What are they worried about?Vitami8n
The Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill has been nicknamed the “Anti-Vitamin Bill.” Opponents believe the future of natural health products will not be so peachy if the Bill is passed into law. They feel that the interests of New Zealanders will be denied under a joint agency as we have different needs to Australians and products for use in our country would be required to comply with the standards set for the Australian market.

Small businesses in the country’s natural health industry will be at risk. Multi-national corporations may find it easy to meet the new compliance costs but NZ-owned businesses could suffer. If local businesses close down it could reduce the range of products available to consumers and threaten innovation, as competition is reduced. Overall, the prices of therapeutic products and medicines will rise.

National: Health Spokesman Tony Ryall, “Every day New Zealanders are taking supplements. Every day they are trying to protect and improve their health. We want New Zealanders to know that the regime is low cost, not restrictive, and that their choices will be protected. But this legislation does the complete opposite.”

Another major concern is that the proposed trans-Tasman regulatory agency “will undermine the sovereignty of our Parliament.” Regulation will be transferred to an authority headquartered in Canberra “with an office in Wellington”. Because Australia took on patent obligations under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, the Bill incorporates these obligations. New Zealand will inherit’ this whether or not it reflects our interests.

Green Party: Sue Kedgley, “It’s a sinister piece of legislation that would involve the New Zealand Parliament handing over its authority to an off-shore agency, set up under Australian law, headquartered in Australia and staffed mainly by Australians.”

VitaminFinally, opponents say natural health products are being unfairly targeted with no justification as they are actually extremely low-risk. The Government hopes the Bill will protect New Zealanders from dodgy medicines. Health Minister Pete Hodgson claimed that between 1996 and 2007, three deaths resulted from natural health products. However it was found that coroners in each case ruled the cause of death could not be attributed to natural health products taken.[1] In addition it was it pointed out that during this same period 8000 deaths were attributed to the adverse effects of pharmaceutical drugs, with a further 16,000 permanently disabled!

ACT NZ: Leader Rodney Hide, “It’s nuts.”

Who will benefit?
While supporters of the bill believe regulation will benefit the consumer, the Bills sceptics think its big business that will win out. When the 26 submissions on the Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill were heard, the 7 that supported the Bill were from pharmaceutical industry based organisations and large Australian-linked companies with financial interests. A United States survey found most people held big Pharma (top-earning pharmaceutical companies in the world) in the same low esteem as tobacco firms.

The Anti Vitamin Bill gets sugar coated: Will that help it go down ?
Because the original bill did not have enough political support, the Government is in the process of consulting other parties about a compromise - a joint agency with Australia will still be established, but makers of New Zealand-based natural health products may choose to be regulated. Those opting out will have to be regulated under a domestic regime and are limited to producing within our shores. To expand business into Australia, they would have to comply with the trans-Tasman agency. This would allow small businesses and producers of traditional medicines to continue operating as usual.

Chinese medicineAccording to Hon. Annette King (Minister of State Services), opponents have been “peddling misinformation” and earlier this year, before the compromise was made, she claimed “the preparation of therapeutic products as part of the traditional practice of medicines will be exempt from the regulatory scheme.” She also denied that “complimentary ingredients or finished products…will be subject to pharmaceutical style regulation.” If that was true, it is ironic that the “compromise” is proposing precisely what the minister was peddling in the original bill.

If you want to learn more or keep up-to-date with what’s happening with the Bill check out the links below.

Reference articles:
Bill risks medicine price rise” by Sarah Meads and Thomas Faunce
Big Pharma not always Beautiful” by Richard Wachman
Sugar coating for contentious medicines and therapeutic products bill” by Audrey Young


Annette King and Minister of Health Pete Hodgson have announced that the Government is not proceeding, at this stage, with the legislation enabling the establishment of a joint agency with Australia to regulate therapeutic products. But the Therapeutics Products and Medicines Bill will remain on the Order Paper to be revisited when sufficient parliamentary support is available… So if you are opposed to this Bill keep taking action!

Read the full press release.

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