Editorial: Beware the Monsters at the Door

By Nichole Hastings

Ephedra Education Council
The Ephedra Education Council (EEC) provides factual information about dietary supplements containing Ephedra and promotes the safe and responsible marketing of these supplements. More information can be found at www.EphedraFacts.com.

Over a week ago, the FDA held hearings on the safety of Ephedra. The hearings were the result of a few individuals having, in most cases, minor adverse reactions, but some of the products were blamed for causing serious problems. Several reportedly contained combinations of stimulants that may have enhanced the negative reactions.

Unfortunately for the industry, the negative press on this issue has been overwhelming, certainly swamping the positive, the potential benefits. The “dangers” of Ephedra have been discussed on the nightly news and on morning shows on the three major US networks and in local newspapers. Always ready to seize an opportunity, and very quick in its PR attack, FDA is now seeking to exclude botanicals from the description of a Dietary Supplement.

Many of us remember very well the time, energy and resources it took to get botanicals included in DSHEA. I remember the conversations with Roy Upton (American Herbalist Guild), Mark Blumenthal (American Botanical Council), Rob McCaleb (Herb Research Foundation) and Michael McGuffin (American Herbal Products Association) regarding their frustration over making this happen, and why it was so important to make sure botanicals were included in the definition of a Dietary Supplement. After all, botanicals are the original source of nutritional support for human health. Centuries before the first vitamin was discovered, botanicals were successfully and safely used to assist the body to regain natural balance. Botanicals were, in fact, the very first supplement to the diet.

The current poor behavior of those few companies developing and marketing products that are not consistent with the high standards we all need, is a major issue. In many cases, these standards and principles were established by the organizations that fought so hard to make it possible to sell these products in the first place under DSHEA, yet these outlier companies appear to be driving policy and image for the entire industry. To lose botanicals from the description of a dietary supplement would be serious. They are a critical component of our industry. And just as importantly, allowing DSHEA to be pulled apart piece by piece could be devastating to our industry and the thousands of consumers and heath care practitioners that depend on the rights afforded through DSHEA. We worked hard for these rights. Shouldn’t we protect them?

And then there’s that mysterious ‘C’ word – CODEX… At NNFA Marketplace 2002, several companies attended a legislative update and were told that CODEX needed to be very carefully watched. Why? Because the European Union has been taking positions on supplements that would likely provide the International CODEX Commission the ammunition it needs to implement strict restrictions on supplements that can be sold in other countries. The actions of the CODEX Commission do not have direct power over the FDA to force the US to adhere to their decisions, however, they will influence the efforts of the FDA in its attempts to dismantle DSHEA. If virtually every major country belonging to the CODEX Commission were to set restrictions on botanical use, and low mg limits on vitamin and minerals, DSHEA would clearly seem out of line.

With FDA and CODEX poised, it’s as if there are monsters at our door. We certainly can’t afford to feed the monsters, why give them reasons to come inside and take over? If you think about it, even in the movies everyone knows that when the monster comes to town, the town pulls together in order to defeat it. And if it actually makes it to the door, nobody feeds it or opens the door to let it inside. (Well, actually the ones who do inevitably perish) So why do we? Retailers, and in some cases, consumers should really know what GMP’s are, what products should not be combined with other products, what research exists for the products that are being sold, what the standards are for the raw materials being used in the products. The fact that they do not indicates something is amiss with either education or communication or both. Industry companies should already know what a valid structure function claim is and how to recognize marketing that has gone too far and how to recognize products that just don’t belong in the marketplace and refuse to carry these products. The fact that they are not operating with long term vision means that the short term incentives are too tempting and that standards, where they exist, are not enforced within the industry.

There are many companies that are attempting to do what is right. It appears to be in our best interest, both for the health of our industry and our personal health, to support and promote what is right, rather than try to defend what is not. That takes standards, discipline and effort.

We all stand for something. I stand with the companies that don’t feed the monsters. Where do you stand?

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