Extension to Dietary Supplement Regulations: Essential for the protection of consumer health

10 June 2020

In the current climate, with misinformation about the effects of common products said to be capable of curing COVID-19 spreading worldwide, an extension to the Dietary Supplements Regulations 1985 (the Regulations) is necessary to ensure the adequate protection of consumer health and wellbeing.

Last month, the Food (Continuation of Dietary Supplements Regulations) Amendment Bill (Bill) had its first reading. The Bill aims to provide certainty and continuity to New Zealand's dietary supplements industry, and maintain consumers' current access to dietary supplements until a fit for purpose regulatory regime is enacted. The Bill achieves this by extending the current Regulations by five years to 1 March 2026.

What are the Dietary Supplements Regulations?

The Regulations control all dietary supplements in New Zealand, and impose a number of key requirements on (inter alia) labelling and maximum permitted daily doses for certain vitamins and minerals.

A dietary supplement is a product to which the following apply:

  • It is an amino acid, edible substance, herb, mineral, synthetic nutrient, or vitamin.
  • It is sold by itself or in a mixture.
  • It is sold in a controlled dosage form as a liquid, powder, or tablet (which might be described on the label as a cachet, capsule, lozenge, or pastille instead of as a tablet).
  • It is intended to be ingested orally.
  • It is intended to supplement the amount of the amino acid, edible substance, herb, mineral, synthetic nutrient, or vitamin normally derived from food.

Common dietary supplements are vitamin boosters, fish oil capsules and dissolvable effervescent tablets.

It is estimated that New Zealand’s natural products industry is worth NZ$1.4 billion annually, with that number only expected to grow. No doubt COVID-19 and the related pandemic will contribute to the growth of this industry, with consumers looking to boost health by self-managed means where possible.

Why extending the Regulations is im​portant

There is a real risk that if the Regulations are not extended, natural health products and supplements will be insufficiently regulated in New Zealand. Such products would only be governed by the criteria surrounding food, which are not fit for purpose and would likely create even more confusion in an already complicated regulatory space. As a result, effective products may be taken off the market in accordance with risk-averse policies. Alternatively, businesses may determine that strict food requirements do not need to be met, and may begin marketing unsafe or unsuitable products, tarnishing the reputation of New Zealand’s health and supplement industries.

It is therefore imperative that the natural health and supplements sectors are adequately regulated, and key players are familiar with what their obligations are. Allowing the Regulations to expire without a suitable replacement will likely have significant flow-on effects, and potentially jeopardise consumer health at a time when a large proportion of the world is living in fear of COVID-19.

Future reform

It is anticipated that a new, fit for purpose natural health regime will be enacted well prior to the proposed expiry date contained in the Bill. It will be interesting to see how the government will deal with natural supplements and related products at a time when New Zealand’s medicines regime is also undergoing significant reform.

Our food and regulatory team is closely monitoring the progress of the Bill, along with the draft Therapeutic Products Bill, and will continue to provide updates as new information comes to light.

If you have any questions about the matters raised in this article, please get in touch with the contacts listed, or your usual Bell Gully adviser.

1 Consider, for example, reports of individuals ingesting bleach, methanol and ethanol, avoiding 5G networks, taking untested medicines, being exposed to the colour white, using handkerchiefs (rather than tissues), adding hot peppers to meals etc. all in attempts to prevent and cure COVID-19.

This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.