Controlled Supplements

The Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 was introduced by Senators John McCain and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) "to amend the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to more effectively regulate dietary supplements that may pose safety risks unknown to consumers." If passed, the bill would overturn the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which determined that dietary supplements are to be regulated as food, not as drugs.  This meant that dietary supplements were not held to the same FDA standards as pharmaceuticals and could be marketed without FDA approval. McCain proposes to end the supplement industry's self-regulation by bringing it under FDA supervision. S. 3002 would require that supplement manufacturers register the locations of their facilities, a list of all products and ingredients, and copies of all supplement labels with an FDA secretary as well as maintain a "scientifically reasonable substantiation file" with evidence that their products are "reasonably expected to be safe." This shifts the burden of proof from the FDA to the supplement companies themselves. In addition, the bill requires manufacturers to submit "adverse event reports" documenting "non-serious adverse events," and greatly expands the FDA's recall authority. To ensure compliance, dietary supplement facilities must "obtain adequate written evidence" of registration "for review and inspection by the Secretary upon request."

Although McCain assured Congress that "legitimate dietary supplement companies should have nothing to fear from this legislation," organizations like the Alliance for Natural Health and the Natural Products Association are sounding the alarm about this "capricious war against food supplements." Opponents of S. 3002 say that the bill doesn't address the problem of illegal steroids as McCain purports, but does create unnecessary and cumbersome administrative hurdles for supplement suppliers. The Alliance for Natural Health states that the end result is "the consolidation of the supplement industry into a few big companies . . .[that would] very likely be owned by drug companies." More objections to the bill suggest that the creation of "voluminous safety dossiers" and an "approved list of ingredients" gives the FDA authority to arbitrarily ban supplements or reclassify them as drugs in order to be more closely scrutinized. There is even concern that imposing restrictions on supplements is a step towards harmonizing the United States with the Codex Alimentarius, an internationally recognized food code backed by the World Trade Organization and agribusiness giants.

In short, the Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 increases federal oversight of supplements ostensibly to protect consumers from dangerous substances. While it's true that regulations on the supplement industry are lax under DSHEA, it is uncertain whether increased regulation will actually protect consumers or simply hamper the sale of alternative health products. Given its history of approving questionable drugs (such as Vioxx and Rezulin), its rejection of medical marijuana research, and its financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, it is important to question the FDA's partiality and of course, follow the money. You can read the bill here, McCain's introduction here, and sign the petition to stop the DSSA from passing here.

Image: "CRW_5121" by Teresa Stanton on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.