Natural Foods Merchandiser

DSHEA: How it came about

Before the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, several pieces of legislation governed supplements. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which replaced the Food and Drugs Act of 1906, authorized regulations of labels on food “for special dietary uses”—in other words, supplements.

Between the 1930s and 1990s, the dietary supplement industry saw steady growth. In the early 1990s, however, the Food and Drug Administration undertook a series of enforcement actions that led to public outcry. Perhaps the biggest mobilizer of consumer opinion against the FDA, according to industry experts, was the Jonathan Wright case. Wright was a natural physician in Washington who prescribed L-tryptophan to patients despite an FDA ban of the substance. In May 1992, the FDA stormed Wright’s clinic and seized vitamins, equipment and medical records. “The raid made no sense,” said Loren Israelsen, executive director of the Utah Natural Products Alliance, based in Salt Lake City, to NFM. “There was no rational explanation. People began to think, ‘Wow, what are they prepared to stop us from using vitamins?’”

In 1992, Utah-based industry groups came together to form a response to the FDA’s aggressiveness. The result was DSHEA, which Congress passed in October 1994 after major political wrangling. For a few years after DSHEA’s passage, the supplement industry experienced significant growth and light oversight.

Not anymore. If 2009 is any indication, the FDA likely will continue to tighten its reins on the supplements industry. As of December 2009, the FDA had issued more than 75 warning letters specifically for illegal H1N1 flu virus products marketed through the Internet. The FDA in 2010 will have more money—$3.2 billion, which is a 19 percent increase over 2009—than ever to strengthen its efforts.

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