At the end of June, just before the sleepy holiday weekend news cycle, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced S. 1310, the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act of 2011. It grants the anti-supplement FDA the power to compile a list of dietary ingredients that pose a potential threat.
Supplements are not drugs, and therefore, deserve their own system of regulation – and that’s the point. Such a system already exists thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), and it has done a more than adequate job protecting consumers largely due to supplement companies’ compliance with, and support of, that system.
S. 1310 is a response to recent marketing tactics by unscrupulous food companies intended to circumvent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards.
The most familiar example, and, apparently the specific reason for the legislation, is the brownies product called Lazy Cakes. Concerned parents made the story national news due to concerns that their children were consuming the brownies while they were unaware that they contained melatonin. The makers of Lazy Cakes, afraid that their profit margin would take a serious blow if they had to add a warning to the product label, decided to re-brand the brownies as “dietary supplements”.
Citizens for Health understands and shares the concern that makers of treats like Lazy Cakes or the plethora of “energy drinks” that have exploded on the market in the last decade are exploiting our system of consumer safety regulations and unethically targeting children with their duplicitous marketing.
However, the answer is not directing more scrutiny and placing a greater financial burden on dietary supplement companies whose products have a long-standing, demonstrated track record of safety.
S. 1310 grants the FDA and the Institute of Medicine the power to compile a list of dietary ingredients that pose a potential threat. And there’s the rub. What are the measures by which an ingredient will be deemed to pose such a threat? And why give the FDA, an agency that has shown an anti-supplement bias in the past, the power to arbitrarily amass a list of “potentially dangerous” dietary ingredients, especially when there is already a system in place to ensure the safety of supplements?
Besides, the FDA is already overburdened and understaffed, and has enough trouble keeping up with its existing responsibilities for policing pharmaceutical companies in their rush to receive permission to sell their hastily tested, potentially dangerous drugs. Now food companies are resorting to underhanded tactics and masquerading some of their products as supplements as a way of avoiding the FDA regulations intended for them, placing even more pressure on the FDA to do their job. The solution isn’t to investigate supplements and dietary ingredients – it should be to investigate the food companies exploiting the system!
Put simply: At best, S. 1310 is a bad bill, albeit with good intentions. At worst, it uses parents’ fear about what their children are consuming as an excuse to take another crack at imposing unnecessary and redundant regulations on the dietary supplement industry, which has demonstrated time and again its ability to ensure the safety of its products.
More than 150 million Americans use some form of dietary supplement on a daily basis, and this should come as no surprise. Supplements are among the safest products available and are rooted in a wellness-based approach to health. The misguided scrutiny proposed in S. 1301 is better reserved for food companies trying to “play the system” – like the makers of Lazy Cakes – and for pharmaceutical companies whose products are employed as part of a sickness-based approach to health.
After all, the data demonstrating the potential negative impacts of pharmaceuticals increases daily. Senator Durbin has shown in the past his willingness to preserve our ability to safely access products, like dietary supplements, that contribute to maintaining our health and wellness. We must take this opportunity to respectfully alert him to his error in sponsoring S. 1301 and help him resume his role as a champion of the natural health consumer.