DIET SUPPLEMENTS: HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

Ironically, at a time when the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the Mayo Clinic are becoming interested in the therapeutic use of dietary supplements, two bills enhancing the enforcement powers of the Food and Drug Administration have been introduced in Congress. H.R. 3642, introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy, would increase the FDAís power to recall, seize, embargo, subpoena, penalize, inspect, and regulate.

While on the surface these bills may seem innocuous, they must be viewed in light of the FDAís long-held bias against nutritional supplements. In 1973, for example, the Commissioner of the FDA stated in the Federal Register that "reliance upon scarce promotional claims designed to panic the public into believing that nutritional supplementation is necessary . . . neither is supported by the hearing record nor fosters good nutritional practice." Nineteen years and thousands of scientific studies of nutrients later, the FDA still appears intent on curbing what it sees as abuses of dietary supplements.

Actually, the FDA itself has been known to abuse its present enforcement powers, despite rebukes by federal courts. In one case, a federal judge, ruling in favor of a company selling nutrient supplements to physicians, wrote that "the governmentís presumption of harm . . . was rebutted to sufficient extent by defendantís extensive record of approval of its products through the testimony of numerous health officials. The government in return, however, was unable to come forward with any relevant showing of potential harm to the public . . . posed by failure to enjoin defendantís distribution of their products." In other words, the FDA wasted the taxpayerís money in a futile attempt to shut down a respected supplement supplier.


Despite increasing evidence that supplements have health benefits and are rarely harmful, particularly in comparison with prescription and over-the-counter drugs, the agency persists in its attempts to regulate supplements as drugs.


The proposed new laws would make matters worse. Speaking against H.R. 3642 at committee hearings, Representative William A. Dannemeyer (R-CA) warned that this legislation "provides very little due process to the regulated industry. Certainly, eliminating due process requirements would make FDAís job much easier. But it would violate the very principal upon which this country was founded. Giving a bureaucrat unilateral authority to shut down a company is characteristic of a police state. Why are we attempting to build up the very walls that are being torn down in Eastern Europe and Russia?

For years the FDA has maintained that nutrient supplements are worthless, if not actually dangerous. Despite increasing evidence that supplements have health benefits and are rarely harmful, particularly in comparison with prescription and over-the-counter drugs, the agency persists in its attempts to regulate supplements as drugs. Any health claim for a supplement, says the FDA, would put it in the category of an "unapproved new drug."

Often, in its monitoring and regulating of our food supply, the FDA does not go far enough, as with pesticides, additives, and food-borne illness. If passed, the current bills may permit the FDA to go to far in the wrong direction.

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Source: Townsend Letter for Doctors, February/March 1992, pp. 162-69.

Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XVII, No. 2, Spring 1992, page 6.