New standard proposed to separate medicine and food

Posted by Editorial on 4th August 2008

The ability to distinguish between food and medicine has become increasingly difficult as a wave of functional foods and “superfoods” hit supermarket shelves.

Such inability to distinguish the line between what constitutes food and medicine has enabled some marketers of superfoods to get away with making prohibited health claims because of poor policing and loopholes in the law, a consumer advisor to the therapeutic goods regulator told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Following extensive consultation a draft standard has been prepared to provide for the regulatory separation of therapeutic and food dietary supplements. The requirements of the new Standard for Supplemented Food align with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and will regulate food-type dietary supplements, which are generally highly fortified products presented as foods, such as sports drinks and mixes.

Many dietary supplements sit at the interface between foods and medicines because they are not food or medicine in the ordinary sense of those words. While dietary supplements used to come in tablet or capsule form they now often look more like ordinary food and drink with added vitamins, minerals and other nutritive substances, such as muesli bars and sports drinks.

Director of Policy at the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA), Carole Inkster, said the main concern with supplementary foods is that, unlike ordinary foods regulated under the Code, there are few rules regarding the sale of these products. “This can lead to problems when there is no advice on safe use of the product or warning labels for certain groups, who perhaps should not be using them as is the case for some medicines for example,” she advised.

Meanwhile therapeutic-type dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, herbal and traditional remedies that offer medicinal or healing benefits and are presented in a dose form such as pills and capsules, will remain under the existing laws as an interim measure pending decisions on the future regulation of these products.

The draft standard is available from NZFSA’s website, at Submissions close on September 25th.