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Health Ministry moving to regulate roots drinks

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2016 | 1:00 AMRyon Jones
A vendor displays bottled roots drinks and some of the roots used in their manufacturing.

Manufacturers and distributors of roots drinks, energy drinks, natural health drinks and other nutraceuticals on the local market will soon have to prove that these products contain the ingredients advertised and can do what they are claimed to do.

Scores of roots drinks, energy drinks and other products have hit the local market, but Jamaicans might not be getting what they expect in each bottle or tin as there is currently no guidelines or standard specifications for these products.

That is a concern for Minister of Health Horace Dalley and his team, and they intend to take action to protect Jamaicans.

"The Ministry of Health is extremely concerned about the multiplicity of so-called energy drinks and natural health drinks on the market," Dalley told The Sunday Gleaner.

"Some of them don't bring any value, no energy. Quite frankly, it is a free market and I understand that, but we have to protect the health of our people, because it is the public hospital that they are going to head to," added Dalley.

The health ministry's concerns appear justified as Sunday Gleaner sources claim that recent testing of some of these drinks provided that some ingredients listed on the products were not there.

"A local university tested some of the roots drinks and found that although they claimed to contain ingredients like guinea hen weed, they had only minuscule traces or none at all," said the source, who said he could not reveal further details of the test until it was released by the university.

The Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), which is mandated to protect Jamaican consumers by providing standardisation, metrology and regulatory services, is powerless to move against the manufacturers and distributors of these products, as there is no standard specification for roots and natural health drinks.

According to the BSJ, at present, it only inspects and registers the establishments in which they are made and assesses the labels in accordance with the labelling standards.

Imported roots and health drinks are also subjected to the same testing and assessment of labels as the locally manufactured drinks.

NCST NOT SATISFIED

But the National Commission on Science and Technology (NCST) is not satisfied with what is being done to regulate and monitor the multibillion-dollar industry, prompting it to propose amendments to the Food and Drug Act.

"These things are not pharmaceutical drugs and they are not just simple foods," said director general of the NCST, Professor Errol Morrison.

"They are claiming to have some health benefits of one form or the other, so they fall under the category of nutraceutical. What we are doing is trying to pull all of these; whether plant extract, animal extract, even honey and fish oils, as these things are part of the nutraceuticals and minerals they all are claiming health benefits," added Morrison.

That is a call heard by Dalley, who is promising immediate action, as he plans to introduce legislation to regulate the industry shortly.

"The bill is to regulate what you call the bush medicine, nutraceutical industry, the energy drinks industry, roots drinks; all those things will be caught in there," said Dalley.

"Every single one of them that is coming on the market will be tested and have to prove that what they say is in there is in there. I am going to call the importers and distributors together, as we must regulate the industry; it can't continue like that," declared Dalley.

The announcement is good news for Morrison, who anticipates that following Cabinet's approval legislation will be implemented to ensure that best practices are followed.

"We expect that following any approval by the Cabinet we will get some kind of directive which will come into law with amendment to the Food and Drugs Act to incorporate nutraceuticals.

"So what we will now be empowered to do is to monitor to ensure that these have what we call best practices," said Morrison.

He stressed that the intention is not to stop the industry, but to ensure that the proper care is being taken in preparation, standards of hygiene, and that what they are making is not injurious to the health of the public.

"People might have been using it for centuries, yes, but you are making this now and you are making a claim; what is the evidence? Are you preparing it in keeping with some minimum health standards and manufacturing standards?

"If it's a plant are you growing it? Is it grown in the proper circumstances, not every dog comes and pee on it and you using all kind of manure. They need to be properly cultured and prepared," said Morrison.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com