Dietary Supplements: What Seniors Need To Know
Hearing before the
United States Senate Special Committee on Aging
May 26, 2010
Statement of Committee Chairman
- Greg Kutz, Managing Director, Forensic Audits and Special Investigations, US Government Accountability Office, presented a report titled "Herbal dietary supplements: Examples of deceptive or questionable marketing practices and potentially dangerous advice." To conduct its investigation, GAO investigated a nonrepresentative selection of 22 storefront and mail-order retailers of herbal products. Posing as elderly consumers, GAO investigators asked sales staff (by phone and in person) at each retailer a series of questions regarding herbal dietary supplements. They also reviewed written marketing language used on approximately 30 retail Web sites and also had an accredited lab test 40 unique popular single-ingredient herbal products for the presence of lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, organichlorine pesticides, and organophosphorous pesticides.The investigators found several cases where written sales materials for products sold through online retailers claimed that herbal dietary supplements could treat, prevent, or cure conditions such as diabetes, cancer, or cardiovascular disease. In addition, while posing as elderly customers, investigators were often that a given product would prevent or cure conditions such as high cholesterol or Alzheimer's disease. The investigators were also given potentially harmful medical advice. GAO also found trace amounts of at least one potentially hazardous contaminant in 37 of the 40 products tested, though none in amounts considered to pose an acute toxicity hazard.
- Tod Cooperman, President, ConsumerLab.com, reported that about 25% of products his company has tested has tested had a quality problem, most often because they contained less of key compounds than was stated on the product labels.
- Charles Bell, Programs Director, Consumers Union, called for mandatory manufacturer registration, mandatory recall authority for the FDA, increased safety requirements, better information for consumers and providers, comprehensive reporting of adverse events, improved quality assurance, greater effort to remove contamination, and expanded resources for the FDA.
- Steve Mister, President and CEO, Council for Responsible Nutrition, who testified on behalf of CRN and four other trade associations, described industry self-regulatory efforts and suggested that most of the problems were due to "bad actors in the industry—those companies, whether they are manufacturers or retailers, that are either unaware of the extensive regulatory framework governing dietary supplements or are willfully breaking
- Joshua Sharfstein, Principal Deputy FDA Commissioner, reviewed the current laws and stated that the agency's enforcement actions related to dietary supplements target products that pose the greatest risk to public health.
- Shortly before the hearing, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced the Dietary Supplement Full Implementation and Enforcement Act of 2010 (S.3414) to increase the FDA's regulatory power.
This article was posted on June 18, 2010.