Schticks and stones: NPA Director Dan Fabricant says comedian John Oliver supplement skewering doesn't merit serious responseSchticks and stones: NPA Director Dan Fabricant says comedian John Oliver supplement skewering doesn't merit serious response
HBO's John Oliver tore up the Dr. Oz and DSHEA to comic effect Sunday night but NPA Director Dan Fabricant says the best response is the old message told in "more adaptive" ways.
June 24, 2014
There’s cause for concern but no cause for panic, said National Products Association Director Dan Fabricant, reacting to a week that included a widely deemed disastrous U.S. Senate appearance by Dr. Mehmet Oz and a 16-minute skewering of the supplement industry on comedian John Oliver’s HBO show.
There’s certainly no cause to take on Oliver point-by-point, the former FDA chief for supplement enforcement said. “He doesn’t care if he gets it right. He’s writing comedy,” Fabricant said Tuesday. “If there’s an appropriate response we can offer, I think it’s generally that it’s hyperbole. It’s satire. It’s that he (Oliver) doesn’t necessarily want to get all the facts.”
The past 12 months that included author and doctor Paul Offit’s vitamins are “nonsense” media tour, headlines linking omega-3 fish oils to prostate cancer, the Journal of American Medical Association declaring multivitamins a waste of money, and the Oz/Oliver one-two punch don’t change the basic message the industry needs to share, but changing demographics and the maelstrom of social media mean the delivery of that message may need to change, Fabricant said. Oliver’s clip got 1.1 million YouTube views in two days.
“Traditionally we have gotten the message to the baby boomer generation,” Fabricant said. “Maybe we are obligated a bit to (creating) a messaging that adapts quicker.” Fabricant did not paint a picture of exactly what that messaging would look like but he did call millennials “the most informed generation in the history of the planet” and observed that they “have grown up with” supplementation. They can hear the industry’s message above the chatter of comedians like Oliver, Fabricant believes.
Fabricant recognizes the negative media momentum in the last year but said the threat of new regulation hasn’t changed. It’s always there. The job of the industry is to make the regulations work, he said. The NPA, he said, has sent “more than 500 letters” to supplement companies that needed to come into compliance on advertising/claims and other issues and each letter contained the warning that a lack of appropriate response could result in a notification to the FDA. The industry can push for more effective and more consistent enforcement, he said but added, “I don’t think new regulations are needed. I think it’s a matter of enforcement muscle.” Fabricant noted that when he headed enforcement of supplement violations at the FDA, a post he left in April to move to the NPA, the Agency took “half a billion dollars” worth of product from bad players in the industry.
The industry could do more, but that really means doing more of what the NPA and others are already doing. Then they have to get the message out about those efforts. “We have to do more than just having a talking point, of saying ‘there are bad actors.’”
Fabricant did take specific issue with Oliver’s implication that political contributions to senators Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkin had significant impact on legislation. The supplement industry, Fabricant claims, spends “less than the bowling alley industry” on lobbying.
There was, however, at least one moment in Oliver’s segment that didn’t bother the NPA executive director. “I liked seeing Steve Buscemi tap dance,” Fabricant said. "I thought that was funny.”
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