Australian CAM industry requires tighter rules

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Medicine

Australia’s complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) sector needs to be more tightly policed in line with pharmaceutical rules, according to critics.

New laws mean pharma players who breach them can be slapped with fines of A$200,000 ($186,000), and the industry is complaining manufacturers of CAM products should be subject to the same controls.

It says some CAM products are making unsubstantiated claims yet no stringent penalty system is in place.

The pharma industry call is not surprising given the two industries essentially lie in competition, but may surprise those who view the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as a one of the world’s toughest regulators.

The Complementary Healthcare Council (CHC), an industry group, resisted the call, stating that the lower risk profile of most botanical products precludes them from being subjected to drug-style regulations.

"We don't believe that throwing out the existing system and bringing in a new one makes it any better for consumers,"​ said the CHC's new executive director, Wendy Morrow.

She said the handling of complaints was slow but this was due to a lack of resources not an inherent fault of the system.

However the pharma industry has won support from an unexpected corner as a CAM group called the Naturopathy Foundation has submitted a paper to the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing arguing for tighter controls.

Its submission said a tightening of regulations would, "lift the quality of (alternative) practitioners, improve patient safety, promote research and allow for greater collaboration between complementary and conventional medicine".

One of the authors said existing CAM regulation was "completely inadequate"​ with the supply chain, claims and the naturopathy profession requiring greater scrutiny.

Echinacea was cited as an example of a herb where the supply was of variable quality.

"A lot of products use the (echinacea) leaf, which is nowhere near as effective as the root, but a lot cheaper,"​ he told The Australian​ newspaper. Glucosamine was also mentioned.

There is no formal penal system in place for CAM product claims – rather the Complaints Resolution Panel (CRP) of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code Council can demand companies withdraw offending claims or have them referred to the TGA.

One complaint against claims being made about a selection of ginkgo products has been referred to the TGA because the CRP felt the complaint was more about science than advertising.

The TGA in January began an investigation into weight loss claims but it has not yet delivered its findings.

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