O, Canada!

Effective May 22, 2013, we have stopped shipping products to Canada. Why? Because we can't reliably get them across the border-- Health Canada has rejected several such shipments in the last few weeks. As a result, despite many years of sales in Canada through our distribution partner Purity Life Health Products, we are unable to sell products in Canada any more.

This is a sad, but not an unexpected development. Health Canada promulgated new Natural Health Product (NHP) regulations effective January 1, 2004. These regulations cover vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, traditional medicines like traditional Chinese medicines, probiotics, amino acids, and other nutrients. Of course they cover our products too.

The problem with the NHP regulations is that they require that all NHP formulas be licensed by Health Canada. For several years, the NHP regulations were not enforced, because Health Canada lacked the resources to process the huge backlog of applications. However, resources were not the real problem. The real problem is that Health Canada requires full disclosure of each formula, milligram for milligram, in order to grant a license. And to add insult to injury, they publish those formulas on their web site before the license is even considered, let alone granted.

It is important to understand that our proprietary formulas are developed with a great deal of time and effort, and that they are a 'trade secret' under international intellectual property law. Like the “11 herbs and spices” famously used in Kentucky Fried Chicken, or the recipe for Coca-Cola, a trade secret is only protected as long as it is kept secret. Disclosing a trade secret formula in a Health Canada NHP application would completely destroy that trade secret, not only in Canada, but throughout the entire world. We have had unscrupulous competitors attempt cheap knock-offs of our popular products in the past, and we do not intend to hand over our precious formulas to those competitors. Not for Health Canada-- not for anyone.

For the last 5 or more years, I have discussed this problem with every Canadian who would listen, from MPs to consultants to consumers. They don't have a solution. Canadian companies don't like it either. The chilling effect that these NHP regulations will have on innovation in the Canadian market can't be overstated. As one Canadian supplier told me, “we have just resigned ourselves to the fact that any formulation we do from here on out, we do for the public domain.” Needless to say, they are not investing much time and effort in developing new formulas these days.

So although we were forced to ignore the NHP regulations to protect our trade secrets, we have still been shipping into Canada until recently. Now, however, we have had several shipments returned from the border. I'm sure Health Canada thinks they are just mopping up the remaining scofflaws who haven't bothered to register their products. In fact, they are forcing the few companies that have a formula worth defending, to finally leave the Canadian market.

Government regulation is on the rise throughout the world. Progressives think this is a good thing. But every regulation has costs, both economic and otherwise. The problem is that good companies don't need regulation, but they have to live with them, and they have to pass the costs on to their consumers. Bad companies will always ignore regulations, and can usually only be reigned in by government action AFTER the fact (like civil or criminal prosecution). But bureaucracies don't do prosecutions well, if at all-- they only enforce ever-increasing regulations by fines and inspections. They are almost always an inefficient tool to clean up the bad actors in any industry. And in the end, government jobs that don't deliver real value to real customers, are not jobs worth having or creating, let alone paying for.

So, to our loyal Canadian customers, I regret to say that for the time being, your best bet is to drive across the border for your supplements, as wise Americans have had to do for Canadian drugs for many years. Vent your frustrations on Health Canada, or better yet, on your MP. Do you really need or want the prior blessing of your government on every NHP you take?

We all consume much higher quantities of food and drink than we do supplements every day, and the risks of food- and water-borne pathogens are much higher. Does Health Canada bother to scrutinize and approve your food and drink choices in this kind of detail? Do they first publish and then license the recipe for every variety of doughnut at Tim Horton's? Who are they trying to kid? Savvy citizens everywhere know better than to trust their health to bureaucrats.