August 10, 2012
CHICAGOThe latest natural products-related article in the Chicago Tribune focuses on illegal pharmaceutical products masquerading as dietary supplements. Author Trine Tsouderos includes information from a federal sting of a Chinese adulteration operation, an interview with FDA Dietary Supplement Division Director Daniel Fabricant, and input from supplement industry trade association. The article ran concurrently with a list of tips for consumers to avoid tainted products.
In the main article, Tsouderos told the story of Shengyang Zhou, a Chinese man pedaled tainted weight-loss capsules to Americans. His herbal formula was adulterated with sibutramine, a pharmaceutical appetite suppressant banned for sale in the Unites States for safety reasons. His motivation for selling his fake version of GlaxoSmithKline's Alli® was to make money, but not so much that the pharmaceutical company would notice his adulteration operation. While Zhou, w ho was under federal surveillance, assured buyers the product was safe enough not to kill anyone, many consumers did fall ill after taking the product.
The federal sting operation on Zhou and his Kunmin, China, operation resulted in his arrest. By then, his network, including websites and individual distributers in the United States, had made more than $200,000. Zhou was eventually convicted and sentenced to 87 months in prison, in addition to having to pay GlaxoSmithKline more than $400,000 and pay $87,000 in lost wages to a doctor who fell ill from taking Zhou's product.
Fabricant is quoted as saying, "We consider it a very, very big problem. If we went out there today, to the Web or to certain retail outlets, we would have absolutely no problem finding products that are tainted."
The article acknowledges the numerous natural products trade associations which have said the situation is a problem for consumers and for responsible supplement companies trying to make and sell quality products. "This is a limited problem in the context of the world of dietary supplements, since the tens of thousands of lawful supplement products do not contain these ingredients," said Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), in the article.
Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), as also quoted in the article: "Anytime criminals hijack the reputation of a legitimate industry, it is of great concern. Consumers need to know that this kind of illegal activity is not indicative of the supplement industry." He advocated more aggressive action by FDA against companies selling adulterated products as dietary supplements. "Criminal acts deserve criminal punishments," he is quoted as saying.
CRN's Dozens Tips for Consumers was referenced as a good resource, as was USADA's Supplement 411 and FDA's Tips for the Savvy Supplement User. Additionally, the Chicago Tribune advised consumers to consult with their physician, even for products that might seem embarrassing; be wary of products that promise quick and dramatic results on weight-loss, muscle-building and sexual performance; look intot he supporting science for a product; and check the FDA website for any recent recalls or actions involving the product or company. These suggestions also made CRN's list of tips, which also advised looking for third-party quality seals, being careful about where supplements are being sold, looking for trade association membership, favoring recognizable name or store brands, and conducting a review of the company and website.
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