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To be or not to be ‘natural’

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In Australia, there are laws that protect Australian consumers from being misled by advertising claims.

Medicines and medical devices are sometimes promoted in advertising as ‘natural’ or as containing ‘natural’ ingredients. Words like ‘natural’, ‘all natural’, ‘100% natural’, or ‘naturally derived’ are used in advertising for a range of different types of medicines or medical devices, including sunscreens, skin creams, personal lubricants, vitamin and mineral supplements, probiotics and herbal medicines.

A ‘natural’ claim may influence the choice of medicine or medical device.

No medicine or medical device can be promoted as 100% safe, effective or a miracle cure, even a ‘natural’ medicine or medical device.

The law prohibits advertisers from making these types of claims and from misleading consumers about the performance of a medicine or medical device.

What does ‘natural’ mean?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has provided guidance for advertisers about how they can use ‘natural’ claims appropriately when advertising medicines and medical devices.

The advertiser may choose to specify in the advertising how exactly the medicine or medical device, or its ingredients, can be considered ‘natural’. For example:

  • For a ‘natural’ vitamin C product, the advertising tells the viewer that 90% of the vitamin C in the product has been obtained from natural food sources, including rosehip
  • For a ‘natural’ turmeric product, the advertising explains that the product does not contain artificial colours, chemical preservatives or any other synthetic ingredients.

Otherwise, before using a ‘natural’ claim for a medicine or medical device, the advertiser should ensure that:

  1. the starting or ‘raw material’ from which the specified ingredient or product is derived must be a form found in nature (such as a plant), and
  2. the product or ingredient must have only undergone ‘minimal processing’ (e.g. freeze drying, grinding or fermentation), and
  3. the ’natural’ product or ingredient must be chemically identical (i.e. must stay the same chemical) to the raw starting material.
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