Health Canada Can’t Force a Product Recall

I’ve lived in Canada since 2006 (minus an 18-month visit to Japan), but I keep getting surprised by things. I guess I assume a certain standard of consumer rights and protections that are simply absent here, and when they pop up I’m shocked. And kinda outraged. A recent example of this is Vega One Nutrional Shakes.

My opening assumption here is that Health Canada is the government-run body that oversees things we put in our body for either nutritional or medical reasons. In order to sell things, you need their approval, and if you start to screw up, then they can slap you on the wrist and make you stop selling those things.

This is not apparently the case.

Before we go any further, let me throw out a disclaimer here: I am not medically trained, nor am I a biologist nor a chemist. None of the below constitutes medical advice in any way, and everything here should be taken as the pretty-much-uninformed opinion of a lay-person.

Vega One has sourced some contaminated enzymes that they then used in their products. This enzymes were contaminated by the antibiotic chloramphenicol. The levels here are extremely low. Like millions of times lower than a therapeutic dose. According to the kinda crappy press release issued by Vega One:

We tested our products in various third party laboratories and found our Vega One and Vega Sport Protein contain between 0.42ppb and 1.3ppb (parts per billion) of CAP.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the medical dosage should be:

The usual dose is 12.5 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) (5.7 mg per pound) of body weight every six hours.

For a 70kg human (that’s 150lbs, for readers using archaic measurements), that’s 877.8mg every six hours. If that were taken with a litre of water, that would be about 878ppm (parts per million). This is a dose that is 800,000 times bigger than the amount that Vega One found in their food.

So far, so medical. Vega One is making the argument that ‘the dosage is not at medical levels, so shut your face Health Canada! You’re not the boss of us! We are, in fact, SAD that you have issued this release. Because our sadness trumps the potential risks to consumers.’

However, Vega One does not get to make this assessment. Why not?

Well, like all corporations, Vega One has a material interest in continuing to sell their product. Issuing a recall will also be at their cost, to ship all the products back to their warehouse, and then finance the destruction of that product. A recall is also seen as mea culpa, so that would have PR fallout for them too. Health Canada has been put in place (indirectly) by the voters of Canada.

Let’s look at that dosage again: it’s entirely true that for a 70kg human, that dosage is well below therapeutic levels. But the level necessary to cause harm is not the ‘therapeutic level’: the therapeutic level is the level at which benefits accrue. This medication, however, has a list of adverse effects:

Aplastic anemia
Bone marrow suppression
Gray baby syndrome

While these are not all likely to occur, aplastic anemia appears to be independent of dose, and could result from the interaction of chloramphenicol with an unknown genetic predisposition. The people susceptible to this, of course, have zero idea who they are, so simply putting this product into the marketplace is bad.

Moreover, Vega One is erroneously assuming that only people who are completely healthy will be exposed to their product. Chloramphenicol also has a list of drug interactions, that is drugs that do not play well with chloramphenicol. This would appear that chloramphenicol is really not a good thing for people who are taking antidepressants, and other psychoactive drugs. People on chemotherapy? Nope, not a good plan. But hey, Vega One doesn’t actually give a shit about you sick people.

This brings me round to the main source of my shock and outrage: how is it possible for a corporation to say to Health Canada “nope, we’re not going to recall our product. Also, you’re a big meanie for saying that we should”. This raises a whole heap of concerns for me, given the considerable contamination of “health” products on our shelves… This stuff should be gone, but they only way for that to happen is for Health Canada to be able to hold these scumbags accountable.

And yes: if you’re stuffing your “health product” with crap that isn’t on the label (for whatever reason), you’re a complete scumbag.

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One response to “Health Canada Can’t Force a Product Recall”

  1. In regards to a Vega – If you look at the label and marketing of the line the focus is on and around the word ‘natural’. The word has pleasant connotations but means less than nothing. Vega is not an organic product and the enzymes that were contaminated came from a supplier in Mumbai. It is one of the biggest scams going quite frankly. People have also gotten seriously ill from the saviseed in some Vega products. Sad to see that Health Canada doesn’t seem to have the power to enforce a recall. It was the pressure from the general public which forced the company’s hand.

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