A group of 14 attorneys general have recently asked Congress to investigate herbal supplement safety and to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more oversight of the industry. Says New York AG, Eric Schneiderman, “When consumers take an herbal supplement, they should be able to do so with full knowledge of what is in that product and confidence that every precaution was taken to ensure its authenticity and purity.”
Schneiderman argues that DNA tests on various store-brands showed none of the labeled herbs present in the product. Consumer advocates and supplement industry groups, in a collective “Duh!” statement, criticized the AG’s methods as DNA testing cannot identify highly processed plant material. One of the AG’s specific targets, GNC, provided their own test results (from an independent testing firm) that showed its products were, in fact, safe and contained what the labels claimed they did. GNC even agreed to add the questionable DNA testing to its list of quality control efforts.
A former director of the FDA’s dietary supplement division, now the executive director of the Natural Products Association trade group, Daniel Fabricant, says he believes Schneiderman’s actions are “harassment based on science fiction.” He goes on to say, “For the past two months, the attorney general has continued to escalate his attack on the supplement industry without any legitimate data to back up his arguments.”
Federal law gives the FDA some oversight over the supplement industry, but not as much as over the prescription drug industry. Supplement manufacturers are not required to disclose to anyone, consumers or the FDA, any safety or benefits information on their products. They are on the hook to make sure the ingredients list is accurate. The only time the FDA can step in is when a supplement has been proven unsafe.
A letter from Steve Mister, the president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, stated that “Our association will certainly cooperate and answer any questions Congress may have about our industry as we share the common goal of making sure that consumers have access to the safe and beneficial herbal supplement products they use to improve their health and well-being.”
Personally, I think big pharma is behind this whole investigation request. It’s no secret that they hate competition and that they have deep pockets. It wouldn’t surprise me at all that one of their lobbyists got to the AGs involved in this witch-hunt. Do I agree that supplements should be safe? Absolutely! Producers like GNC take necessary steps to ensure that their products are safe. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they submit their test results to the FDA; however, I think a purposeful smear campaign conducted by prosecutors is completely unnecessary.
Frankly, I’d trust the supplement makers’ test results far more than any that big pharma submits to the FDA. Honestly, I don’t particularly have that much faith in the FDA, either. “Trust us. We have your best interests at heart,” it says, hoping we’ll believe. The ever-increasing number of prescription drug-related lawsuits tends to make me doubt its assertions, though. More likely, big pharma’s (and its lobbyists’) concerns hold a higher place in the FDA’s heart than any of mine.
I can only hope that actual science, not lobbyist-funded bigotry, carries the day.