Saturday August 30, 2014

Patient safety bill fails on “natural” products


Amid a rush of high profile federal legislation including the 2014 budget and the (un)Fair Elections Act, one bill not getting enough attention is Bill C-17: Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa’s Law).

The alternate name of the bill is in honour of Conservative MP Terence Young’s daughter, who died in  2000 of complications from a prescription heart medication she was taking. The drug, Prepulsid, was later deemed unsafe, recalled and the subject of a class action law suit.

The Act, which has currently passed first reading, will:

Require strong surveillance including mandatory adverse drug reaction reporting;

Recall unsafe products;

Impose tough new penalties for unsafe products, including jail time and new fines of up to $5 million per day instead of the current $5,000;

Provide the courts with discretion to impose even stronger fines if violations were caused intentionally;

Compel drug companies to revise labels to clearly reflect health risk information, including updates for health warnings for children; and

Compel drug companies to do further testing on a product, including when issues are identified with certain at-risk populations such as children.

“If senior executives actually faced the threat of going to jail when they keep dangerous drugs on the market, things would change,” Young told CBC News before the bill was tabled by Health Minister Rona Ambrose.

This is an admirable piece of law-making except for one glaring problem. It does not cover “Natural Health Products” (NHPs).

It would be bad enough if this was an oversight, but the Act specifically exempts NHPs.

The Act defines “therapeutic product” as “a drug or device or any combination of drugs and devices, but does not include a natural health product within the meaning of the Natural Health Products Regulations.

I have written extensively about what a joke these regulations are. “Natural” does not mean effective and it does not mean safe, yet time and again Health Canada lets these products skate with little or no oversight.

Fortunately, the bill still has to go through second reading, committee, third reading and the Senate before it becomes law and the consumer advocacy group Bad Science Watch (BSW) is on the case.

“Bad Science Watch believes Canadians deserve robust safety and enforcement regulations for all health care products, and will be fighting to have the Act’s definition of “therapeutic products” amended to include NHPs,” said Jamie Williams, BSW executive director.

The relatively new science watchdog has been successful before in lobbying for changes to health product regulations. In September 2013, I wrote about the campaign that prompted Health Canada to require labelling of nosodes (also known as homeopathic “vaccines”) with a warning that states, “This product is not intended to be an alternative to vaccination.”

Concerned citizens can help in a variety of ways. Details are available at



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