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'Unprecedented' Crackdown Could 'Devastate' Australian Fitness Industry

Up to 70,000 products and 80 percent of the Australian supplements market could vanish overnight under an "unprecedented" crackdown on fitness products, the industry has warned.

Manufacturers have sounded the alarm that protein powders, diet bars, meal replacement shakes, sleep aids and even electrolyte sports drinks could disappear from shelves, after the Therapeutic Goods Administration flagged a possible "clarification" which would see "certain sports supplements" classed as medicines instead of foods.

Nutritionist and supplement industry spokesperson Stephen Eddey claims this would be a fundamental and "unprecedented" shift, requiring urgent and expensive changes to products currently sold on supermarket shelves.

Protein powder and other supplements could be included under the TGA crackdown, the industry claims. Image: Getty

"If you run a food factory making whey protein, you'll have to close down. You have to rebuild the whole plant to make it a drugs plant," he told 10 daily.

"We have a 12-month lead time for new goods.... this could shut down the whole Australian industry."

Eddey, former vice-president of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society and a former member of the TGA's complaints resolution panel, is fronting the industry's Save Aussie Supplements campaign.

Protein bars could also be included under the new regulatory scheme, Save Aussie  Supplements warned. Image: Getty

Including Nutrition Warehouse and Australian Sports Nutrition, some of Australia's biggest supplement stores, the campaign is livid that the TGA consultation period has only been scheduled for six weeks, and claim they need more time to consult with the agency over how it would affect the industry.

Save Aussie Supplements claims the changes would "devastate" the sport and health supplement industry, with some 70,000 products -- including supplements for antioxidants, sleep aid, fat loss, muscle gain, pre- and post-workout, gut health and stamina -- potentially affected by the proposed change.

Changing the regulation of supplements in this way would make Australia a global "outlier", Eddey claimed, saying few other countries policed the industry in this way.

The TGA outlined in its consultation documents that food and medicine are classed differently in Australia, with the classification based on "ingredients, claims and overall presentation", including packaging and artwork.

The TGA said that sports supplements are "a broad category of products that straddles the interface between the food and medicine regulatory frameworks", as they are marketed as food and sold in supermarkets, yet include "explicit or implied claims" around fitness or performance.

"Yet it is appropriate that those sports supplements that are taken to be for therapeutic use are subject to the same national system of controls that are established for other therapeutic goods," the TGA said, adding it wanted to "resolve some of the uncertainty" around regulations on supplements.

"It is proposed to declare... that sports supplements meeting certain criteria are therapeutic goods."

The industry claims 70,000 products could be affected, including sports drinks. Image: Getty

In a statement to 10 daily, the TGA claimed the proposal was made because "some companies have been marketing products as foods that should instead be regulated as medicines to ensure safety of consumers." The administration claimed some supplements sold as food contained toxic substances, illegal prescription drugs, ingredients banned by anti-doping authorities, and synthetic caffeine derivatives.

Eddey said the supplements industry "wants a safer market" and welcomed moves to protect customers -- but claimed the TGA process was unfair, would wipe out the Australian industry, and simply lead to consumers sourcing products from overseas which weren't subject to TGA rules anyway.

"You can't sell a medicine as a food, so all the stuff on the shelves will have to be taken off. You'd have to shut down a $1.1 billion industry to remake them all as medicines," he claimed.

"You would have to make protein powder at a TGA-approved medicine plant, because all these factories are now set up for foods, and that's a massive process."

Industry spokesman, Stephen Eddey, says the change would be "unprecedented". Image: supplied

The TGA claimed "many sports supplements will not be affected by the proposed clarification", and that "a product that contains whey protein powder... would be unlikely to become a medicine under the proposed changes."

However, Eddey alleged the TGA's plan, to further regulate goods which make therapeutic claims, was broad enough to include snack bars and sports recovery drinks. He said this could mean millions of consumers would be affected by the change.

"It could be anything you take or drink after a workout. Sports drinks are marketed as being for post-workout. Bars, powders, anything marketed as around losing weight or fat could be included," Eddey warned.

"Millions" of people could be affected. Image: Getty

While the supplements campaign said it was "disappointed" the consultation period was not longer, the TGA defended its conduct and timetable.

"This is not a tight turnaround and is the TGA’s standard period for a consultation on a proposal of this type," it said.

"The TGA has actively sought the input of more than 100 interested parties as part of this consultation process that is currently ongoing, including consumer groups, health professional groups, sports bodies, and sports supplements suppliers and manufacturers."

The Save Aussie Supplements campaign has collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for the TGA to extend its consultation period.

The consultation period is scheduled to run until December 3.