A dialogue in New Zealand's Parliamentary question period indicates that Minister of Health, Annette King is preparing to sign a treaty next week that could give control of regulation of the New Zealand dietary supplements industry to the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration.
A public Health Select Committee has spent over eight months soliciting public input and was due to report any day, but the government admitted in questioning that the issue had already been decided, and the deal would go ahead, despite the committee's report.
According to the NZ Health Trust, under the agreement, dietary products vitamins, minerals and herbal products) would be taken out of the "foods' classification and put under a 'pharmaceutical drugs' regulatory environment.
In the Parliamentary question period, the Hon. Annete King commented, " This Government has decided to move, in conjunction with Australia, to regulate complementary and therapeutic dietary supplements because of the Pan Pharmaceuticals situation. Many New Zealanders demanded that we put in place regulation, and the work that I have seen shows the impact on small business of what we intend to put in place will be minimal."
These comments are contested by the dietary supplements industry and choice in health advocacy groups who point out that the Pan Pharmaceutics 'situation' involved an OTC drug, not a supplement, and occurred under the watch of Australia's Theraputical Goods Administration, the very agency it now proposes to jointly regulate New Zealand's Dietary Supplement industry.
Other issues and concerns expressed by Citizens for Health Choice include:
- The approach will limit availability of supplements, while favoring Australian suppliers
- Prices will increase due to increased compliance costs
- New Zealand parties had not been notified of the government's intent to proceeed, even as the Committee was soliciting feedback
In responding to questions on these issues Minister King commented:
"It is not reasonable to expect the Governments of New Zealand or Australia to wait any longer for a report from a select committee.... the costs of regulating complementary medicines within a joint agency would be significantly less than that of a New Zealand regulatory scheme."
When asked why the government was moving ahead now and couldn't wait for the Committee report, Minister King responded, "The Cabinet made a decision in principle in November 2002 that complementary medicines would be included in the joint regulator."
The Minister attempted to assure questioners by saying that it was wrong to assume that the joint body would be remote from New Zealand, that it would be in Australia, and that it would be under Australia's control.