Natural Foods Merchandiser

Industry Takes a Beating in Recent Coverage

Want a film analogy to describe supplements and herbs in the mainstream media? Think Rocky. And like Mr. Balboa in the eponymous films, the natural world is battered and bruised, but always manages to get up and keep the prizefight going.

The latest one-two punch came in the form of articles in Forbes and Consumer Reports, both highly critical.

The April 19 Forbes article, ?Poison Pills,? featured cover art of a gel-type capsule filled with skulls. The May CR article, ?Dangerous Supplements,? had the tagline ?6 could cause cancer, kidney failure, liver disease, or death [CR?s emphasis].?

Both articles appeared at about the same time as the April 12 ephedra ban start date, an event that did not pass without notice in the news. Two companies, NVE Pharmaceuticals and the National Institute for Clinical Weight Loss, had filed suits to block the ban date until previously filed lawsuits could make their way through the courts. A federal judge in New Jersey denied the stay.

The latest press didn?t surprise Marc Ullman, a partner at the Ullman, Shapiro, and Ullman law firm. ?[It?s] the same kind of thing we?ve been seeing in the last three or four years, with out-and-out misrepresentations or just factual mistakes that people don?t bother checking in these media outlets,? he said. ?[They suggest] that supplements are unregulated and potentially dangerous. And it?s just wrong.?

Judy Blatman, spokeswoman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, said the press is an example of bad-apple tainting. ?I think that the bad press is particularly unfortunate because it points to a very narrow portion of the industry, but then takes a wide brush to paint the whole industry negatively. ? It puts aside the fact that this is an industry that makes products that play an important role in promoting good health.? CRN has published a four-page, point-by-point rebuttal of the CR article for members.

Some members of the industry feel that the bad press plays into the government?s desire to amend greatly, if not repeal, the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act.

Ullman, at least, said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could do more to work with the supplements industry to counter the bad press. ?I think [the idea that supplements are dangerous] is a misimpression that FDA is glad to have out in the media,? he said. ?One of the things that strikes me is that several years ago, when there were media stories that had it wrong about the risk about salmonella and eggs, FDA immediately issued a press release correcting the erroneous media reports. They?ve got no interest in correcting this media.?

For her part, Blatman said the best course of action is to work with FDA and take some responsibility for making DSHEA work. ?If FDA is not able to enforce DSHEA because there are companies out there that are looking for any way around the law, that just makes the agency?s job harder,? she said. ?And it?s important in terms of public perception for FDA to be talking about the fact that they have the appropriate authority and they want to try to make the law work before they can say it doesn?t work. This negative media has been going on for a number of years, and the drumbeat has gotten louder since the ephedra problem, but I do see a difference in the kinds of public things the FDA is saying, and I think that will have an important effect.?

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 5/p. 1

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