The TGA has released “substantially revised” guidance on the use of the word “natural” and related claims when advertising medicines and medical devices to the public
The organisation notes that claims that a therapeutic good is “natural” – or that the ingredients in a medicine or medical device are “natural” – are widely used in advertising directed to the public, including on the labelling or packaging.
“If the advertising does not explain what the term ‘natural’ (as well as related claims such as ‘naturally occurring’, ‘sourced from nature’ and ‘naturally derived’) means in relation to the particular product being promoted, interpretations by consumers will vary, especially if ‘natural’ is used as a stand-alone claim,” the TGA cautions.
Consumers need to know what a claim means – otherwise it could mislead them, it says.
Misleading advertising would breach the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code.
“When advertisers use a ‘natural’ claim, they will either have to provide sufficient information to explain the claim or use it in accordance with the definitions set out in the TGA’s guidance,” it says.
“This will benefit consumers either through more precise advertising or, where claims are not precise, an improved understanding of what ‘natural’ claims mean.
“Specific information for consumers on the use of ‘natural’ claims in relation to medicines and medical devices will be published in coming weeks.
“This information will enable consumers to be aware, where clarifying information is not provided by the advertiser, what is required to satisfy a ‘natural’ claim.”
The guidance follows a 2018 public consultation on an initial proposal for the use of “natural” claims in advertising.
This saw representative bodies of consumers, industry and health professionals consulted on the need for clarity around the meaning of the term “natural” and the content of the proposed guidance.
This process saw “clear input” that the proposed guidance was “overly complex and technical, unclear, imposed regulatory burden was not in step with the positions articulated by other agencies,” such as the ACCC and the National Industrial Chemical Notification and Assessment Scheme.
“The published guidance has been substantially revised from the version that was the subject of the targeted consultation,” says the TGA.
“We have reduced the complexity and length, and provide examples for clarification. It draws on dictionary definitions of terms and, as far as possible, is consistent with the ACCC’s guidelines about the use of natural claims in relation to food advertising, noting that there are inherent differences between natural claims in relation to foods and therapeutic goods.
“Further, while the previous versions attempted to define both ‘natural’ and ‘naturally derived’, the published guidance defines only the term ‘natural’.
“The TGA considers that consumers are unlikely to differentiate between ‘natural’ and associated terms, including ‘naturally derived’, when these terms are used in advertisements for therapeutic goods.”