FTC Testifies on Dietary Supplements

In testimony today before the House Committee on Government Reform, Lee Peeler, Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “Although many supplements offer the potential for real health benefits to consumers, unproven products and inaccurate information can pose a threat to the health and well-being of consumers and cause economic injury.”

“The Commission has focused its enforcement priorities on national advertising claims for products with unproven benefits; products promoted to treat or cure serious diseases; products that may present significant safety concerns to consumers; and products that are deceptively marketed to or for children and adolescents,” the testimony stated.

The FTC has filed fourteen complaints in the past year against companies making allegedly unsubstantiated or false advertising claims for dietary supplements and other natural healthcare products, including oral sprays, creams, and patches. Also, in the past year, the Commission obtained orders against forty companies and forty-four individuals, which prohibited the unlawful practices and required the defendants to pay a total of $35.5 million in consumer redress, disgorgement, and civil penalties.

The testimony noted that, “Products are promoted to adults not just to maintain basic health and nutrition, but also for weight loss, to build muscle, cure sexual dysfunction, treat and prevent colds and flu, and even reverse arthritis, cure cancer, and treat many other serious diseases. Products promoted specifically for children also extend beyond traditional multivitamins to include treatment and cures for a variety of childhood ailments ranging from colds to more serious conditions such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD).”

The testimony highlighted recent examples of FTC cases, consumer education efforts, and partner cooperation that illustrated the Commission’s multi-faceted approach. In particular, the testimony discussed the FTC’s priority on youth-targeted products, “not only because young consumers represent a particularly vulnerable audience, but also because the safety concerns are heightened when children, who are still growing and developing, use products that may have been studied for safety only in adults, if at all.”

The Commission approved the testimony by a vote of 5-0.

NOTE: The views expressed in the written testimony represent those of the Federal Trade Commission. Oral testimony and responses to questions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission or any individual Commissioner.

Copies of the FTC’s testimony are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. 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 in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), 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/ftc/complaint.htm. 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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