FTC and FDA Coordinate for New Consumer Health Information Initiative

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris today participated in the announcement of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's new consumer health information initiative. According to Chairman Muris, the FDA initiative will both help eliminate bogus health claims by increasing enforcement actions against false or misleading dietary supplement claims, and provide new guidance that will allow manufacturers of conventional foods to make a greater range of accurate, science-based claims about the health benefits of their products. The actions FDA will take to accomplish these goals include issuing guidance on qualified health claims for conventional foods and dietary supplements, and strengthening enforcement of existing dietary supplement rules. In his remarks, Muris emphasized the FTC's commitment to protecting consumers from fraudulent health claims, as well as encouraging the dissemination of truthful information. "The FTC has vigorously advocated greater use of truthful advertising and labeling to convey health information to consumers," he said.

Muris stated that for nearly the past 20 years, the FTC, under a succession of administrations, has vigorously supported truthful advertising and labeling because it can convey critical health information to consumers. Muris noted that the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) provided the initial foundation for the new FDA-led initiative by creating nutrition labeling requirements that gave consumers clear, understandable information about the nutrition content of food. The NLEA enabled marketers to provide consumers with important, truthful claims, supported by science. However, Muris stated that two important issues continue to warrant improvement. First, he discussed the dietary supplement market, noting that increased consumer interest in health and nutrition in recent years has resulted in a greater interest in dietary supplements and diet products, some of which have made false claims. "Deceptive and unsubstantiated health claims in this market are, unfortunately, far too common," Muris said. "When consumers' health is an issue," he added, "there is simply no place for fraud." Second, Muris explained that an unintended effect of the NLEA's health claims regulations is that too much diet and health information has been driven from the marketplace.

Muris praised the new FDA initiative, calling it a "step toward getting more [important diet and health] information to consumers more quickly." He also stressed the importance of continued cooperation between FDA and the FTC. "Working to improve health in America is a priority for all of us," Muris said.

The FTC and FDA have worked closely on a number of joint initiatives in the past two years, including: the Health Fraud Steering Committee, co-chaired by the two agencies, which was created to develop and implement procedures to enhance interagency cooperation; and the FDA-sponsored Health Fraud Coalition, second-chaired by the FTC, which facilitates the coordination of regulatory activities and information exchange. The two agencies also co-authored several health-related consumer education brochures. Additionally, over 100 FDA compliance and law enforcement personnel have access to the FTC's secure, online complaint database, Consumer Sentinel, which receives thousands of complaints each year. The cooperation between the FTC and FDA demonstrates the FTC's continuing commitment to challenging deceptive health claims, and follows recent action against deceptive weight loss product marketing, including Mark Nutritionals, Inc., creator of the Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula.

Linked to this document are Chairman Muris's remarks and 12 FTC advocacy filings and staff reports relating to FDA regulation of health claims in food labeling.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

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