The Standing Committee on Health met to discuss Bill C-17 for the first time yesterday morning. It was clear from the pointed questions asked of the Minister of Health, Rona Ambrose, that the Committee members have listened to your emails, and are taking in our arguments.
Libby Davies, Vancouver East, NDP
Ms. Daves mentioned that people had written in (that’s you!), and asked the Minister for the rationale of what products were included and what were excluded from the bill’s definition of “therapeutic products”, to which she did not get a clear answer.
Dr. Carolyn Bennett, St. Paul's, LIB
Dr. Bennett asked for an explanation of why toilet-bowl disinfectants were included in the bill but NHPs were not. The Minister began her answer with “to be frank, I struggled with this one because I thought that everyone should be under the legislation”, but that they didn’t include them because of the case made by “the natural health products community” was that their products were “low risk”.
When Dr. Bennett pushed the Minister to address concerns about contamination and lacing of herbal products with pharmaceuticals, the Minister said “we are regulating natural health products”. This is hardly a satisfactory excuse, as they are also already regulating drugs and medical devices! Again referring to the NHP “community”, she said “their belief is they are low risk, so they shouldn’t be treated as pharmaceutical products”. Dr. Bennett voiced further concerns about labeling, and adverse reaction reporting. Incredibly, the Minister suggested the Committee “ask the experts when they come to committee if there is [sic] adverse reactions from a natural health product”.
Dany Morin, Chicoutim - Le Fjord, NDP
Mr. Morin asked of the bill, “do you think it will put a lot of burden on those companies that say that they produce safe therapeutic products”? The Minister of Health said they anticipate the changes will have “a limited impact”. Mr. Morin replied, “Thank you, Minister, and I agree with you… So are you still insisting that even those low-risk products should not be included in that law? Because, as you said, the burden of this law will not be cumbersome...”. The Minister dodged the question again, and said “I’ll leave it up to you to question the experts on that. The recommendation to me was that these are considered to be low risk and the pharmaceutical industry and pharmaceutical products is what this law applies to.” Mr. Morin finished with a statement of his belief that NHPs should be covered by the bill.
In general the Minister of Health and her accompanying witnesses faltered under these questions, referring to unspecified ‘experts’ and failing to directly address the concerns raised by the MPs.
It was very encouraging that MPs also spoke strongly in support of public disclosure of clinical trial results, to which the Minister responded that she was open to amendments of that type.
Video and audio of the meeting can be found on the Committee website.
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