Health Canada's new rules for homeopathic products for kids should apply to adults, expert says

Health Canada's crackdown on some natural health products for children should apply to products for all ages, a critic says.

Scientific evidence required for children's homeopathic cold and flu products, but not for adult products

Marketplace made up a children's fever remedy, Nighton, and applied for approval from Health Canada. The product was licensed without scientific proof that it works. (CBC)

Health Canada's crackdown on some natural health products for children should apply to products for all ages, a critic says.

Last week, Health Canada announced it will toughen the rules for some products marketed to help children get over a cold or the flu.  

More than 10,000 natural health products, from herbal-based remedies to homeopathic treatments, were licensed by Health Canada last year alone. They are often sold next to conventional medicines.

The regulator said it will no longer allow companies to make specific health claims on homeopathic products for cough, cold, and flu for children 12 and under, unless those claims are supported by scientific evidence.

An investigation by CBC's Marketplace revealed how little scientific evidence is required by Health Canada to license homeopathic remedies. 

Marketplace created a children's fever and pain remedy called Nighton, which claimed to provide "effective relief from fever, pain, and inflammation" for children and infants, based on photocopies of a few pages from a homeopathic reference book. There was no research, clinical trial or actual pills.

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Health Canada sent a licence to sell the remedy for children's fever and pain with the claim it's safe and effective.

Inconsistent regulation, critic says

Joe Schwarcz of McGill University's Office for Science and Society in Montreal said Health Canada's proposed changes don't go far enough.

"I don't think it makes any kind of sense to draw a line at age 12 and to require evidence for children's products but not to have the same criteria for products that are sold to adults," Schwarcz said.

Marketplace asked Health Canada why all homeopathic products don't require scientific evidence.

A spokesman for Health Canada didn't respond to that question. "All health products and health claims that Health Canada authorizes must meet clear standards of evidence that are appropriate for their use and level of potential risk to Canadians. They must also be labelled to reflect those standards," the regulator said in an email.

"Health Canada is concerned that there has been confusion for consumers because of the similarity between the packaging and marketing of homeopathic and non-prescription drug products. This can lead consumers to the conclusion that homeopathic products are similar to or the same as health products that meet more scientific standards of evidence to demonstrate their effectiveness."

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Consumers Centre for Homeopathy said the "homeopathic community will reach out generally to the media when we are completely clear on how exactly the changes will apply."