Lausanne, Switzerland—A recent International Olympic Committee (IOC) study found many nutritional supplements in 13 countries contained ingredients not listed on their labels. This has drawn criticism from industry associations frustrated by the IOC's refusal to detail its testing procedures or name offending manufacturers.
The executive director of the US-based National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA), David Seckman, said it was impossible for the industry to take any action over the alleged breaches without further information.
"IOC officials have said they are concerned about lawsuits if they were to release the brand names of the products they've tested," he said. "Not doing so, however, makes it impossible for either the industry or the Food and Drug Administration to investigate and resolve this issue. At a minimum, we would like to know what types of supplements were tested and how they were tested."
NNFA, along with the American Herbal Products Association and the Utah Natural Products Alliance, have jointly asked the IOC to make more information available about both the products tested and methods used.
Patrick Schamasch, MD, the IOC's medical director, said, "The warning is sufficient—we don't want to give any company names."
Schamasch also defended the study's testing procedures. "We went into shops, fitness clubs and the Internet and we picked the supplements randomly," he stated, adding he was surprised by the results.
"We expected some supplements to breach labelling requirements, but the magnitude of the problem exceeded our expectations," he said. "Clearly, this is not just an issue for athletes—it's also a public health issue. We want better quality controls, which is not happening at the moment.
"We have not done this to damage the industry—we want to ensure that all companies are producing clean products that contain only ingredients listed on the label. I'm pretty sure that for the majority of companies, the kinds of anomalies revealed in our study are non-intentional. So the key is better quality control."
NNFA Chief Science Officer, Phil Harvey, PhD, said the results contradicted NNFA's own random and ongoing test results. "I'm not too worried by these tests because our own testing reveals most products are good in this industry. The majority of manufacturers are reputable and do good testing, but it is hard for us to know who to bring into question when the IOC won't release names of manufacturers."
The study, conducted by the IOC's Medical Commission, based here, collected 634 nutritional supplements between October 2000 and November 2001 and found 94 (14.8 per cent) of them contained unlabelled ingredients, namely precursors of testosterone, nandrolone or a combination of both. Another 66 products (10.4 per cent) returned 'borderline' results for various substances not listed on the label. The samples were collected in 13 countries with the Netherlands (25.8 per cent), Austria (22.7 per cent), UK (18.9 per cent) and the US (18.8 per cent) having the highest number of breaches.