Unnatural Regulation: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy in Canada

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According to Health Canada, Canadian sales of natural health products (NHPs) were estimated to amount to about $4.3 billion and to number around 40,000 to 50,000 products in 2004. A 2006 survey on the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) found that more than one-half of Canadians had used at least one alternative therapy in the year prior to the survey, a four percentage-point increase over the rate of use in 1997.

The fact that more people are using NHPs and CAM-and thus more people are exposed to the potential adverse effects of such treatments-is the main reason given by Canadian and other governments for broadening the regulatory framework covering these products and therapies. However, the data do not support a public safety argument for government regulation of either NHPs or CAM practitioners.

This study examines the validity of the public safety argument for licensing NHPs and CAM practitioners. It concludes that the cost of licensure far outweighs the benefits and recommends that:

  • The Natural Health Products Directorate, which regulates NHPs, be abolished and the monitoring of NHP safety and effectiveness be left to various nongovernmental organizations.
  • All current health practitioner licenses, including physician licenses, be replaced with certification, with the opportunity for various organizations to become certifying agencies.

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