Almost five years ago, Dr Andrew Shao became the vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition in Washington, DC. After earning degrees in biology, human nutrition and nutritional biochemistry, he went to work at Kemin Industries, and then to GNC Corp. Now at CRN, it is his job to track research and regulatory issues in the supplements industry.
FI: Working at Kemin in Des Moines, Iowa, must have been a big change from Boston, where you grew up and earned your degrees. What was that like?
AS: Oh, it was a big change! It was very eye-opening. What was most surprising was how friendly people were. I remember our first night there, my wife and I went to the grocery store and we passed a guy who said 'hello' to us. I kind of gave him a funny look. When we passed him again, he said 'hi' again. I turned to my wife and said: 'What's his problem!?!' He had no problem. He was just being friendly!
FI: How do people's diets differ in the different places you have lived?
AS: In Iowa, it's meat and potatoes. They're a pork capital and they eat a lot of it. There are limited choices of cuisine. There was one Korean restaurant and maybe two seafood restaurants that tried to look like Cape Cod (Massachusetts) — but they didn't taste like Cape Cod!
FI: What are the legislative and regulatory issues to watch in 2010?
AS: Implementation of GMPs and adverse-event reporting; food-safety legislation, which is imminent; and product adulteration. I don't know if adulteration is more frequent now than in past years, but it is being afforded more attention by FDA. This is a good thing, but it has also brought criticism of DSHEA. It's in industry's best interest to fix this problem as soon as possible.
FI: In your many years of nutritional education, was there anything you learned that surprised you?
AS: Yes. The fact there is no such thing as good or bad food. Consumers are led to believe that certain foods are good for you or bad for you. Bacon, bad; vegetables, good. But every food has some nutritive value, even bacon. There is no such thing as good or bad foods, just good or bad diets.
FI: Does that mean that you, on behalf of CRN, are giving me official dispensation to eat fried tacos?
AS: Absolutely! If you want a fried taco, go ahead. Just don't eat them every day for every meal. It is equally unhealthy to be paranoid and obsessive about the food you eat.
FI: New Year's is coming up. If you were a VP at a group called the Council for Irresponsible Nutrition, and you were throwing a company party, what would be the party favours?
AS: There would be erectile dysfunction products adulterated with sildenafil, body-building products adulterated with steroids, and weight-loss products adulterated with sibutramine.
FI: Is the FDA ever going to crack down on these guys?
AS: They are trying. But given its resource limitations, it has to practice risk-based enforcement. It is most interested in the greatest threats to public health. If a product is making outlandish claims but is otherwise benign, that's not a top priority