DSHEA, 20 Years Later: Don't Forget About the FTC

Making DSHEA-compliant claims eases FTC scrutiny, writes Mitch Skop, senior director, new product development, Pharmachem Laboratories Inc. The other way? Self-policing.

Mitch Skop

January 22, 2014

3 Min Read
DSHEA, 20 Years Later: Don't Forget About the FTC

The natural products industry is such a nice place to work, making the world a better place little by little.

Everyone at Pharmachem works very hard every day to help marketers provide healthful products, which are safe and effective and meet or exceed label claims. Most, if not all, of our customers are on the same page, striving to provide quality products and to make a buck while doing so.

Our specialty ingredientsunique patented compounds and complexes clinically studied for efficacy and studied for safetyare sold under license that insist on the use of therapeutic doses and marketers making responsible, conservative, DSHEA-compliant claims. Pharmachem is not alone. A number of very fine companies invest tons of time and money into research to offer the finest possible health and wellness products.

However, mistakes made by a few companies that operate outside of the normal boundaries of reasonableness often taint the majority of us. Outlandish claimswhatever the categoryshouldnt even be believed by the consumer, but sometimes they are. Sometimes those products with outlandish label claims become successful; others, very successful. Some are even touted by TV doctors as "miracles. 

Then, along comes the FTC or the FDA or the NAD; then the media, and THWACK. Were all painted with the same brush and consumer confidence is dealt another blow.

To us, the FTCs recent action was no surprise and it was actually long in coming. Like the dog waiting to be hit with the rolled up newspaper, companies engaging in such behavior expect this as the inevitable, just not knowing when it will happen.

We find it a real shame, especially because there are so many excellent ingredients and ingredient systems that have sufficient safety data and clinical science to substantiate sensible, salient claims. Claims that would probably be just as successfuland far more believablethan the wild ones we sometimes see.

The category of weight loss/weight control remains the number-one category in many countries, including the U.S., making it a big target for marketers of fad products. Many consumers who want to lose weight are often desperate to find a solution, and are particularly vulnerable to unsubstantiated claims.

Weight loss products accounted for more than twice the number of claims submitted to the FTC than any other category. This year, it was Operation Failed Resolution. In 2004, it was Big Fat Lie, and in 1997, Operation Waist Line.

Since the passing of DSHEA 20 years ago, dietary supplements and ingredients have been governed by a different set of rules than conventional food and drug products. The act gave us certain freedoms that allowed our industry to flourish. However, with those freedoms come responsibilities to make sure supplements are safe and marketed responsibly.

While we applaud the efforts of the FTC in clamping down on deceptive practices, we really should police our own, clean our own house from time to time--and ensure we don't tolerate this behavior. Whether its the American Botanical Council, the Council for Responsible Nutrition or another group, we should handle our own messes and tout our own successes.

We, as an industry, need to support the FTCs efforts by adopting the following principles:

1. Utilize double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to demonstrate products are effective and safe, and sometimes multiple studies for confirmation of effect.

2. Urge media outlets not to accept ads for weight loss products that make dubious claims.

3. Report cases of companies who are making, outrageous, unsubstantiated claims.

Before another New Year arrives, we need to work together to ensure that use of dietary supplements for weight loss are viewed as a positive means for helping to fulfill resolutions as opposed to a fad built on unfounded promises.

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