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USA TODAY Article Starts Supplement Registration DiscussionUSA TODAY Article Starts Supplement Registration Discussion

December 20, 2013

5 Min Read
USA TODAY Article Starts Supplement Registration Discussion

McLean, Va.USA TODAY reported 14 percent of supplement companies that have  been slammed for adulterated products were led by owners with a criminal past.

The report was another in the long line of negative media coverage the supplement industry received starting last Sunday with  a New York Times editorial and continued on Monday with the publishing of editorial in the Annuals of Internal Medicine.

In the fourth installment of USA TODAY's, "Supplement Shell Game" series, the article, "Makers of tainted supplements have criminal pasts," by Alison Young appears to another deep blow at first, but Young quoted supplement industry leaders, sharing their concerns and perspectives.

The article called out seven specific cases where spiked, adulterated and dangerous supplements were operated by people with criminal records such as grand theft, insurance fraud, assault and money laundering. In total USA TODAY said 14 of the 100 companies flagged for selling adulterated products they examined were run by people with criminal histories.

"This industry, like any industry has parts of it that we are less proud of than others," Steve Miser, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), told INSIDER After the article was published. "The reporter got her facts correct, but the elements she describes in the story represent a small mosaic in the industry, and it's a much bigger tapestry." Miser was able to inform USA TODAY readers of the larger story in his numerous quotes in the article.

The USA TODAY article took a line from Miser, describing a "tale of two industries"one that is responsible, safe and legal, and one that sells adulterated, illegal and dangerous products.

Supplement Registration

To reduce the adulteration, USA TODAY explored a supplement registration process, a suggestion made in a bill proposed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and one the supplement industry has opposed. However, Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) was also quoted in the article, saying he is open to that discussion.

Israelsen also told INSIDER he would be willing to explore if industry registration would help distinguish responsible companies from irresponsible companies, or help filter out ingredients of concern. "If there is a way to think though a registration process that would help improve the system, I'm prepared to talk about it with opponents and proponents of DSHEA [the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994]," he said.

However, Israelsen is not open to the idea of using Sen. Durbin's bill to start that discussion. "Registration continues to prop up as an issue, and the industry has resolutely, in the context of Sen. Durbin's bill, said that's not a starting point for us. That is partly because the bill is complicated and called for a lot of other things to be done that were unwieldy."

And he's not ready to consider premarket approval for supplements. He said that would move supplements into the drug category, which would be too expensive. "None of the critics who call for premarket approval of supplements can explain how it would work economically. Many supplements would disappear because they don't stand up to a pharmaceutical approval process, which requires a tremendous financial investment. Drug companies get exclusivity to sell that drug, and they charge enormously high prices to do that

CRN's Mister told INSIDER supplement registration would not stop illegal companies from breaking the law; it would just add more burden for those who are following the rules. "The problem with registration is that the fringe elementspeople that adulterate productsaren't going to comply with that either," Mister said. "What you would end up with is more burden, more paperwork and more regulation for responsible companies, but no change from the bad companies."

Reducing Adulteration

The USA TODAY article also noted CRN calls for better FDA enforcement to reduce adulteration and halt criminals who are selling supplements. Mister pointed to the various fines and enforcement measures FDA can use to punish illegal practices.

To INSIDER, Mister said responsible industry also needs to do more to help consumers pick the good products. "Responsible companies need to help consumers navigate the aisle," he said. "That may be more  third-party certification programs, a seal on the product that says an independent lab has looked at it, or going through an NAD [National Advertising Division] challenge demonstrating claims are legitimate and well supported. This needs to be a wake up call to industry that we need to do more to distinguish the good guys and the bad guys."

Israelsen said cases like the ones outlined in the USA TODAY article is a call to industry to fulfill all regulatory requirements, communicate that to consumers and protect "supplements" as a brand. "Third-party certification is a central piece of that. Companies need to communicate what they do. There will be questions from consumers following this media. With the steady drumbeat of criticism, we tend to want to go into defense mode, but it's the time to be a trusted source for consumers."

The UNPA leader speaks truth when he said, "We haven't heard the end of the critics," but he called 2014 "the year of how we communicate clearly to Congress, to regulators, to the media and to consumers. We have compelling answers to the questions on the table. We need to accept reasonable criticism by saying, 'We're working on it.'"

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