Natural Foods Merchandiser
Secret Shopper: I keep hearing that supplements aren't regulated. How can that be true?

Secret Shopper: I keep hearing that supplements aren't regulated. How can that be true?

This month, Natural Foods Merchandiser's secret shopper visited a natural products store in the Midwest to test its staff's knowledge on supplement regulation.

Natural Foods Merchandiser: I keep hearing that supplements aren’t regulated. How can that be true when there are so many products on the shelves?

Store: Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Only homeopathics are.

NFM: Really? Then how can I know all these supplements are safe?

Store: Any supplement we sell has to pass our strict standards. We check companies’ manufacturing records and make sure the products have been tested for purity. And with many of the herbs, we know they’ve been used safely in other countries, sometimes for centuries. So it’s not like the U.S. government has the only say.


How did this retailer do?

Our expert educator: Dan Fabricant, PhD, executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association and former director of the FDA’s Division of Dietary Supplement Programs

This retailer does not seem at all familiar with the regulations and laws that govern dietary supplements. Every natural products store employee should know that supplements are indeed regulated by the FDA. In fact, there is an entire FDA division dedicated to them.

Because dietary supplements are not regulated the same way as drugs in the U.S., people tend to think they are somehow not regulated. Although this is the case in some foreign countries, other nations choose to regulate supplements as either food or drugs. The U.S. has chosen to regulate them as foods because of their long history of safe use. Foods typically have a regulatory framework along the lines of “notification,” as opposed to “approval,” as is required for drugs. But even on the food side, manufacturers still need to submit safety dossiers to the FDA.

It also doesn’t seem like this employee utilizes the many resources available to retailers online, free of charge. The Natural Products Association has readily available resources on our website, and there is additional guidance that comes from being an NPA member. We frequently train our members on what staff can and cannot say to customers.

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