Four Corners: Australian CM experience is different, say stakeholders

spoonful of vitamins

Industry stakeholders have expressed disappointment with last night’s Four Corners program, Supplements and Safety, highlighting the difference between the US and Australian complementary medicines landscapes.

Complementary Medicines Australia says it is “disgusted” with the program, which it says sensationalised the issue after CMA raised concerns with the ABC that the US program was without merit in Australia.

“We are also disgusted that the ABC agreed to provide a level of balance by acknowledging the strict regulatory environment for Australian complementary medicines and then failed to do so,” says Carl Gibson, chief executive officer of CMA.

Supplements and Safety quoted experts such as pharmacy clinical manager Sarah Erush, who said that “when you’re buying a dietary supplement, unless you have some proof of what’s in that product, it could be anything”.

Paul Offit, from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said that in the case of megavitamins, “you actually can hurt yourself. You actually can increase your risk of cancer; increase your risk of heart disease.

“I think few people know the risks they’re taking.”

The story was a joint New York Times and PBS Frontline story.

CMA told the ABC last week that comparisons cannot be drawn between US and Australian supplements as the quality control environment in the US is very different to here in Australia, it says.

“The US regulates supplements as food, whilst Australia regulates supplements similar to that of pharmaceuticals standards,” says Gibson.

“In fact, the Australian regulatory regime for complementary medicines is such that it is viewed by most countries as the consumer protection benchmark.

“A US produced story about supplements is very misleading to consumers and unfairly damaging to an Australian industry that contributes $4.2 billion a year to the nation’s economy.”

“Placed in the correct context, as it should have been, the story highlights that consumers need to be aware that products purchased online from overseas are not subject to the same regulations as those enforced in Australia.”

The Australian Self Medication Industry says Australian consumers should have a high level of confidence in their quality and safety.

ASMI CEO Dr Deon Schoombie says the program has limited relevance to Australian consumers.

“There is a vast difference between the way the US and Australia regulate these medicines,” he says.

“Under Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration consumers in this country benefit from one of the world’s most rigorous systems for regulating complementary medicines.”

Both CMA and ASMI highlighted the provisions under which the TGA issues AUST L and AUST R numbers.

Both stressed the importance of buying complementary medicines and supplements from reputable Australian sources, and not from overseas.

Dr Schoombie pointed out that the Four Corners program also raised issues in relation to omega-3 fish oil supplements.

The majority of Australian do not eat enough fish, and omega-3 supplements play an important role in helping people to consume adequate marine-sourced omega-3s, he says.

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