For thousands of years, humans have relied on the roots and herbs of the forests and the fields to keep them healthy.
It is an ancient art we now call ‘homeopathy’ — and its modern name is a clear sign something important has been erased from our collective memories and given sanctuary, as if in a museum.
On the bright side, homeopathy has become fashionable. Now, the world is teeming with natural healers and a competitive industry of natural medicines is keeping up with the demand for natural health care.
Every day, more and more Canadians are taking charge of their bodily destinies, and we are lucky enough in to have the tools to do it.
But a federal bill with powers so extreme that people are calling it a “police state” bill, is threatening to change that.
Bill C-51 proposes changes to the Food and Drug Act. It has already passed second reading in the House of Commons and has moved to the committee stage where witnesses and experts can be called to provide information to improve the bill.
Naturopathic doctors and others in the industry are worried about its contents, which some say hold the potential for disaster.
Some substances may suddenly require a prescription and nuances in terminology will change it so that they must be prescribed by a “practitioner.”
Naturopathic doctors do not have prescriptive powers and could lose the ability to treat their patients.
Your veterinarian or dentist would have the power to prescribe St. John’s Wort for your mild depression, but not your naturopathic doctors, the real expert on the substance.
Health Minister Tony Clement says he’s not out to make Vitamin C a prescription drug and that 90 per cent of natural products won’t be affected.
But natural remedies, which claim to “cure cancer,” for example, need to be scrutinized, says Clement.
Bill C-51 was prompted by the rash of safety recalls in 2007, including on toys and dog food.
The feds will now spend $113 million over the next two years to toughen laws on prescription drugs, natural remedies and to track food “from farm to truck.”
The panic that has sent the general public and those in the industry to the streets in protest is about how far this scrutiny will go on remedies that have centuries of tradition on their side.
Will modern medicine get to decide whether cranberry juice is a true cure for a bladder infection if it only helps a few people?
Can natural substances from plants really be put into the same category as prescription drugs and expected to undergo more clinical trials than they already do?
Arguments from defensive physicians that ‘just because they are green and leafy doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous’ doesn’t hold water; natural remedies have been subjected to a five-tier approval system through the Natural Health Products Regulations since 2004, which does require clinical trials and the ultimate approval of Health Canada.
The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors supports the “intent” of the bill, which is to modernize the regulatory system, strengthen enforcement and compliance and further examine benefits and risks.
But it will strive for clarification before the bill reaches third reading.
As it stands now, Bill C-51 moves natural health products, medical devices, cells, tissues, organs and drugs under the heading “therapeutic products.” It would not differentiate between drugs and natural health products.
It defines a practitioner in such a manner that naturopathic doctors will be denied access to natural health products deemed prescription therapeutic products.
It proposes sweeping new powers of enforcement with increased penalties including the ability to enter business establishments without a warrant.
Maximum fines under the act could rise to $5 million from $5,000 and include up to two years in jail.
Gordon Smith, president of the Yukon Association of Naturopaths, has faith that the industry will be given ample opportunity to review the legislation and he backs the CAND’s support of the bill’s intent.
But he is clearly skeptical that better health care can be brought about through this kind of law, pointing out that “weed killer and cigarettes” are both “poisonous” substances that are completely accessible.
“My tendency is to believe that the answer is not in legislation but in education,” says Smith, who notes educating the public has always been the primary goal of naturopathic doctors.
Open access and widespread information about homeopathic remedies has given Canadians the freedom to take charge of their health.
It will be a crime if natural remedies are locked away.
Check out CAND’s website at www.cand.ca for more information and for templates to send a letter to your MP.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.