San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rules on supplements to change

Citing tougher regulations imposed by Costa Rica’s Health Ministry, local courier company Aerocasillas says it will no longer ship dietary supplements to Costa Rica.

Packages sent here from the U.S. are currently being inspected in Miami. If they are found to contain food supplements, the packages will either be held in storage or returned to the sender, a company spokeswoman said.

According to Aerocasillas Marketing Director Johanna Gabourel, the Health Ministry recently began strict enforcement of already existing regulations, and now an increasing number of dietary supplements have been stranded indefinitely in customs.

“To avoid customers’ packages being abandoned in customs because they don’t have proper permission from the Health Ministry, we are stopping [the packages] in Miami,” Gabourel said. “Our experience has shown that the Health Ministry is rejecting most of the requests for importation [of supplements].”

Xinia Arias, the Health Ministry’s director of client services, said that strict regulations are being applied to protect Costa Ricans.

“Why are products regulated? To guarantee the health of the population, [and] to prevent the use of medicines that have dangerous ingredients,” Arias said.

There is some hope that a new category of product regulation designed specifically for importing dietary supplements will be implemented early next year. By March, health officials will likely require supplements to display a list of ingredients and remain within guidelines for chemical content before they can be imported here. This new category will also regulate energy drinks, and will limit certain ingredients, including caffeine.

But what the rules for dietary supplements might look like remains unclear. Arias said that dietary supplements would likely no longer be treated as food products.

“Because supplements aren’t consumed like food, nor are they like medicines, we’ve created a new category. Supplements will be regulated more carefully than food, but less so than medicines,” Arias said.

Since President Laura Chinchilla took office, the Health Ministry has worked to reduce the waiting period for new products to be marketed and sold. A process that used to last up to a year will soon take only a month, health officials say.

Since June, the Health Ministry has reduced the number of products waiting for approval. The number of medical products awaiting approval was reduced from 1,662 to 647; natural products have been sliced from 215 to 94; cosmetics went from 1,320 to 152; and food products waiting for approval dropped from 779 to zero.

“We received more people and more equipment to eliminate the logjam,” Arias said.

Mailboxes Etc., another international mailing service, continues to import supplements with strict guidelines. Starbox does not import any supplements.

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