An overhauling of public health legislation under preparation at the Ministry of Social Affairs sets out fines in respect of encouraging the consumption of toxic substances including the controversial Miracle Mineral Supplement (MMS) and poisonous mushrooms from the Amanita genus.
This encouragement would be defined as including any social media posts which were adjudged to induce the use of such substances.
While the fine tariff for a private individual found guilty of this activity would be capped at €1,600 under the terms of the bill, in the case of legal persons, ie. companies, the fine could be as high as €80,000
Minister of Health Riina Sikkut (SDE) said when presenting the bill on Wednesday that the changes to the relevant legislation, the Public Health Act, contains a fundamental amendment in relation to those who peddle snake oil treatments, namely that the Health Board (Terviseamet) would be empowered to monitor activity and issue fines in such cases
"This doesn't cover all the things which are under doubt on the basis of evidence, but it covers those areas which are most harmful to people," Sikkut said, expressly referencing MMS and Amanita fungi.
The Health Board would rule on which substances would be covered by the bill, on the grounds of toxicity tests.
"While what a person does at home cannot be monitored, responsibility lies with the person who earns money from providing toxic substances to people. You must not publicly offer goods which are a health hazard; this includes plant-based products – if they are toxic, noone may publicly endorse their consumption," the minister went on.
According to the planned bill, the new law could enter into force on January 1, 2025, while from that time on the Health Board would intervene in the activities of those who make dangerous calls.
This activity could mean, for example, recommending a toadstool on social media, in a local paper or on a promotional poster.
"The goal is that if a product is for instance intended for domestic cleaning and contains substances that are not intended for human consumption, then such an endorsement should not be made," the minister went on. Current law does not bar this, she added.
"Whereas earlier it was viable to sell MMS, now we are saying that it will not be. Or if it was said that since Amanita grows in nature, it must therefore be natural and good for the health, we are now saying at the legal level that the consumption of dangerous substances is forbidden and you can't encourage this."
Sikkut added that if someone recommends standing on your head or if a self-appointed advisor sells video sessions, the new law does not concern such matters. The Health Board intervention under the new bill would be triggered by the recommendation of consumption of a plant or animal product that is a health hazard, she added.
The law also sets out the fine tariff.
In the case of a legal person, the possible fine would be up to €80,000, while a private individual can be fined up to 200 fine units, ie. €1,600 from next year (when one fine unit will equate to €8; up to now it has been €4).
Heli Laarmann, head of the Ministry of Social Affairs' public health department said that fines will only be imposed if the situation cannot be resolved in any other way, while the first step would always be communication with a service provider.
Minister Sikkut also stressed that the legal amendment does not mean that from January 2, 2025, the Health Board will start issuing fines en masse.
Informing is important, as some sellers may simply not perceive the limits of the toxicity of the products in question, but a conversation will be enough to do so; non-compliance may not be conscious and intentional, in other words.
Tattoos, sun-beds barred to minors
In addition to quack medicine, the new bill covers a number of other public health areas, such as environmental and catering requirements to be placed on kindergartens, schools and hospitals.
The bill states for instance that a beauty service provider must have the adequate proven qualifications and skills to provide their services safely.
Tanning and tattooing providers would be barred from providing their services to minors.
There is bad news for those who want to have ink tattooed into the eyeball – this would be barred too under the new law, if it passes.
While the bill stretches to 14 pages, there are 21 regulations appended, for example, regarding kindergarteners meals
A ban on some processed food is under discussion with stakeholders including the Health Development Institute (TAI) and the ministry, with a view to a bill on this emerging in the first quarter of 2024.
In any case, school meals will be subject to stricter requirements and school directors tasked with ensuring adherence to these requirements.
Summing up Sikkut said the law's aim is to ensure the protection of public health and to prevent undesirable health side-effects; every euro invested in prevention should save four euros later on, she said.
The Ministry of Social Affairs is next to send the bill to its coordination round in the next few weeks; this will replace public health law in force since the mid-1990s.
The aim is for the bill to reach the Riigikogu by the new year.
The genus Amanita contains about 600 species of agarics including some of the most toxic known mushrooms found worldwide, accounting for approximately 95 percent of fatalities resulting from mushroom poisoning worldwide.
MMS is essentially bleach, and has been falsely promoted as a cure for illnesses as diverse as HIV, cancer and the common cold.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Karin Koppel