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US supplements industry steps up testing and advertising scrutiny

The Natural Products Foundation, a US group established in 2004 to "promote and enhance the integrity of the supplements industry" has ratcheted up its efforts by establishing two new initiatives that will independently track the supplements industry.

One involves random product testing while the other will weed out misleading advertisements and create an environment where they are less likely to be produced. Bergstrom Nutrition, NOW Foods and Vitamin Shoppe have signed on as launch sponsors, and more are expected.

"We want to make sure everyone plays by the rules, and this new program will help to do that," said NPF executive director Tracy Taylor. "Our industry is made up of people who want to help other people get and stay healthy, and product integrity and truth in advertising are two important ways to help achieve that goal."

The first initiative will see independent NPF store scouts randomly purchase about 15 popular consumer products each month. These products — including vitamins and minerals, nutrition bars and sports beverages — will then be sent to independent labs where results will be "peer-reviewed by industry scientific experts" and published on NPF's web site.

"What's on the label is what should be in the product, nothing more, nothing less," said Taylor. "This program will not only boost consumer confidence, it will help discourage bad actors from cutting corners since the results will be made public."

The programme would allow experts to discuss methods and standards "while making comprehensive information available to consumers."

The "truth in advertising" initiative has three elements:

  1. Education. NPF will work with manufacturers, retailers, advertisers, publishers and others involved with the use, distribution or sale of natural products to educate them on the details of advertising requirements.
  2. Commitment to an Industry Pledge that requires signees:
    • Refrain from making claims, either expressly or implied, that are not accurate and fail to adequately disclose qualifying information.
    • Verify there is adequate substantiation for claims being made, including the level of support, type and quality of evidence presented, and relevance of the evidence to the claim.
    • Refrain from making claims through testimonials or expert endorsements that cannot be substantiated.
    • Ensure claims based on traditional use have appropriate substantiation or clearly communicate that the sole basis for the claim is its history of use for a particular purpose.
    • Ensure claims are appropriate for dietary supplements and do not cause the product advertised to be a "drug" under the FDA.
    • Use the two-part disclaimer as stipulated by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 when appropriate.
    • Strictly adhere to the use of "third party literature" as defined by DSHEA.
  3. Hotline. An NPF web page where consumers, competitors, retailers or any member of the public can report any advertising claim they believe to be fraudulent, misleading, or untruthful. Action may vary from an NPF enquiry to referral to the Federal Trade Commission for investigation.
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