Big companies like Bayer should lead by example

Bayer was just busted by the DOJ for unsubstantiated colon health claims. Shouldn't such a big company have its act together?

As a newbie to the natural products industry, I had assumed that the larger and more polished a dietary supplement company appeared, the more compliant and trustworthy they would be.

A few years later and my naivete seems laughable.

Big booths, slick branding, TV spots, Wall Street backers, Walmart end-caps--they're essentially meaningless as a measure of a brand's safety, quality and regulatory compliance.

And so I get peeved when I see a big company such as Bayer--one we'd assume would have its ducks in a row--hit with Department of Justice contempt of court order for overblown claims on its Phillips Colon Health product.

Check out the offending commercial from Bayer below:

The assertion that the probiotics in Phillips Colon Health can "defend against" constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating bucks a 2007 court order that prohibits Bayer from making unsubstantiated claims, the DOJ said.

I see two issues here:

1. Bayer's a big company. Bayer has the dollars to get in front of a lot of consumers. Bayer has the responsibility to lead by example if it expects to lead in this category. The impression of legitimacy that the company bears makes it a model for younger companies--companies that may not have the in-house counsel to know their claims are illegal or defend semi-legal claims. If you can fool a reasonable consumer you can fool a reasonable businessperson.

2. Perhaps probiotics do defend against constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating. Perhaps the company is in the right to make this claim and it's time for supplements to be used more as medicine. And here we open the same old can of worms we always open when talking about supplement regulation. Can Bayer prove its product prevents constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating? Maybe. Is it worth Bayer's time to prove its products live up to their claims? Not in this industry. Should there be more scientific evidence of the therapeutic efficacy of vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, concentrates, metabolite, constituents, and extracts? Absolutely.

Are any of these issues ameliorable under the current regulatory regime? Absolutely not.

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