Health Canada won’t crack down on unlicensed natural health products for sale in Canada for at least another year, despite recent assurances that a new compliance plan would kick in soon.
The news, delivered privately to industry insiders at Health Canada workshops over the last two weeks, comes after Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq assured parliamentarians earlier this fall that the government was on track to clear a product licensing backlog by March 2010 and implement “a compliance strategy for 2010.”
Health Canada reaffirmed this week that the department is on target to meet the March deadline. But in workshops officials told industry representatives not to worry about that date.
Health Canada’s current policy allows companies to sell unlicensed natural health products, provided they’ve submitted a product licence application with Health Canada’s natural health product directorate and the department is not aware of any health risk associated with the product.
Natural health products include teas, vitamins, mineral supplements, herbal products, exotic substances and several novel foods and drinks.
Overall, of the nearly 42,000 product licence applications received since 2004, Health Canada says the directorate has completed about 73 per cent of the applications.
“They said, ‘Look, (March 2010) is an internal target deadline for the natural health product directorate to try and get through the backlog of applications,” Carl Carter, the director of regulatory affairs and policy development at the Canadian Health Food Association, said Tuesday. “It is by no means, a firm compliance and enforcement date, that if you have don’t have a natural product number by that date, we’re going to start taking your products off the market or potentially charge you under the regulations or the act.”
During these recent briefings with industry players, Carter also said Health Canada officials made it clear enforcement actions will be pushed to 2011 while the department continues to work on developing a compliance policy.
“Based on the plan that they’ve articulated in those workshops, there will be activity regarding compliance and enforcement in 2010, but it’s more in the continuing development of the policy rather than actually forcing product off the shelf,” said Carter.
“We encourage Health Canada to do more to reach out to stakeholders,” he added, ‘’because of this very, very serious concern that existed in people’s mind about this looming enforcement.”