On Oct. 2, the Office of the Inspector General (IOG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released two reports calling the validity of dietary supplement labels into question.
The first report, “Dietary Supplements: Structure/Function Claims Fail to Meet Federal Requirements,” says that, of 127 supplement product labels analyzed by the agency, 20 percent used impermissible claims. The second report, “Dietary Supplements: Companies May be Difficult to Locate in an Emergency,” points out how many products still do not print a company phone number on their label in case of consumer adverse events.
According to Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the reports had been in the works for some time. The IOG interviewed CRN a year ago on the topic. Mister said that the IOG typically works as a watchdog organization for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although these reports come pretty hard against the supplement industry.
Not representative of industry, say sources
He argued that the companies audited were not a representative sample of the supplement industry. “It was not a randomized sample, and they focused specifically on companies targeting weight loss and immune function,” Mister said. Weight loss is often designated as a problem category in supplements, where overblown claims are a constant bugaboo.
John Shaw, executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA), agreed that the sample was not representative, being just 127 products out of an estimate 29,000 on the U.S. market. But he said that the reports were unlikely to have any long-term effect on consumer supplement sales. “Consumers are comfortable that products are safe and reliable,” he told Nutrition Business Journal.
Said Mister: “There was certainly some negative publicity in the mainstream news today [Oct. 3], but I don't think this is a long-term story for consumers.”
What concerns him, however, is that because the reports bear the mark of the Inspector General, they carry an official clout that might be used by supplement industry critics down the line. “It is likely to be cited and mis-cited by critics that these issues are systemic, rather than being fringe elements,” Mister said.
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