This series looks back at the stories we were covering in Natural Products Insider 25, 20, 15, 10 and 5 years ago this month. In addition to providing some interesting history, I explore why these stories are still relevant today.
Then (October 2012): Throughout 2011 and 2012, we were reporting on the growing attacks on energy drinks coming from a variety of places, and in our October 2012 issue of Natural Products Insider, we offered an update and summary. Top concerns were over the amount of caffeine in energy drinks, as well as the sources of that caffeine. There were also questions about the distinction between functional beverages and liquid dietary supplements.
In 2011, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) called energy drinks a public health threat. In the spring of 2012, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) wrote a letter to FDA, requesting clarification and action on energy drinks with high caffeine content and for clarification on the delineation between beverages and liquid dietary supplements. He asked for an in-depth safety assessment and called out specific ingredients: taurine, ginseng and guarana. At the end of summer 2012, FDA provided its formal response. The agency stated that current data do not show a significantly widespread caffeine consumption problem due to energy drinks. FDA informed the senator that the amounts of caffeine in energy drinks are similar to amounts found in common beverages such as coffee.
Now: Energy drinks are still on the market. So is coffee. Depending on which market research firm you listen to, the energy drink market is between US$40 billion and US$70 billion, with projected growth of 5% to 9% annually. Coffee is still pretty popular too (and remains my caffeine source of choice). People like their caffeine, and they have for thousands of years. All that said, I am not an advocate for higher and higher concentrations of caffeine, and I am not a fan of kids drinking large amounts of energy drinks (or caffeinated, high-sugar sodas).
The reason I selected this article from 10 years ago is not to argue for or against caffeine. I chose this article to point out an example of the long history of Sen. Durbin challenging the safety of products in our market. He has been doing this for nearly 30 years. Often, his approach has been misleading. I believe his goal is to require pre-market approval for dietary supplements, herbs/botanicals and the ingredients in these products. He and other critics of our industry and how it is regulated would prefer to see our products treated like prescription drugs. This, of course, would eliminate our industry and our products.
That may sound outlandish to some, but for those of us who were around before the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) became law in 1994, that was the reality. FDA considered our products to be either unapproved drugs or unapproved food additives. In either case, they were not considered legal products. It took an act of Congress to change the law and protect consumer access to vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes and other products. Sen. Durbin and other opponents of DSHEA and our industry would like to see another act of Congress to undo DSHEA and severely restrict access to dietary supplements. I sense the next battle on this topic is brewing.