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Herbal and sports products threatened by legislation may be able to stay on the shelves following a proposed change of the law.

The Department of Health has proposed changing the definition of a complementary medicine, basically “broadening” what can stay on the shelf.

In 2013, the Medicines Control Council and Department of Health decided to “clean up” the complementary medicine industry, which sells herbal medicines, weight loss supplements, vitamins, and untested sexual health products.

They legislated that the natural health products industry needed to submit evidence from the end of 2014 proving that their products were safe and of good quality.

In the 2013 law the regulator defined natural or complementary medicines as products making medicinal claims that are linked to an allied healthcare profession such as Ayurveda or Western herbal medicine.

Products that did not fit into the legislated categories need to stop being sold by 2019.

At the time the Health Products Association of SA said the definition excluded about 60% of all natural products in an industry it estimated was worth R8-billion.

Now the department has proposed adding a category called “health supplement” to the law, which would allow for many more natural medicines to be sold.

Comments on the changes are open for two more weeks.

“The proposed law may be designed in such a way as to operate a “catch-all measure” for substances that do not qualify as complementary medicines,” said Werksman’s attorney Neil Kirby.

Consumer activists, who have long fought against the natural supplements industry – which they say makes false claims about untested products – are unhappy about the proposed change.

“This has the potential to open doors for scams unless it is regulated properly by the Medicines Control Council,” said consumer activist Harris Steinman.

Medicines Control Council registrar Joey Gouws said makers of products falling under the new category would eventually have to send dossiers to the council for registration showing the safety and quality of the product.

Of the many existing complementary products – such as slimming concoctions and natural sexual stimulants – for which safety documents and data in line with the earlier legislation had been submitted, not one has satisfied requirements for registration.

But in many cases this was because the dossiers submitted were incomplete, said Gouws.

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