In February, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) introduced a bill that would essentially pull the rug from the legitimate side of the dietary-supplement industry. The action prompted a rather loud hue and cry from the supplements industry and the public, including groups such as Citizens for Health. The fear was that, if passed, the bill would negatively affect consumers' access to a broad range of supplements they rely on for better health.
The bill would have created a series of mandatory requirements for companies to register basic information and ingredients with the FDA—both of which are already covered in existing requirements in the Bioterrorism Act and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA, passed way back in 1994). It’s hard to imagine why companies selling illegal drugs would fess up to federal authorities with any of this information. They might as well handcuff themselves and call for the squad car.
The other provision in the act that was troubling was that retailers would be held accountable for making sure the products they sell were registered appropriately with the FDA. If not, the retailer could be fined. Can you imagine supplement buyers at CostCo, Walmart or the Mom and Pop health-food store keeping track of FDA paperwork for hundreds of dietary-supplement companies? They might as well stop selling supplements.
However, within a month, McCain rescinded his support for certain elements of the bill.
Does that mean it is over? Not quite, but at least McCain plans to work with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and other industry members to find a real solution to the real problem—illegally sold drugs masquerading as supplements. The original bill had widespread support from the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the United States Anti-doping Association (USADA). Much of the backing from the sports community came after USDA purchased an illegal steroid precursor from, of all places, the all American marketplace—Amazon.com.
While this was terribly dangerous, it reflected a frustrating fact: that the FDA, DEA, FTC and the industry need to work more closely to catch the bad guys, rather than inconvenience companies with credible products who follow the rules.
If anything good came of this, it is that the poorly written bill brought the right players to the table. During this campaign, I received a call from a McCain staffer who told me the senator is interested in preserving the legitimate side of the industry. Hopefully now Sen. McCain will see that criminal activity needs swift enforcement and the only way to reach that level of success is to engage the credible side of the industry in finding tangible solutions, rather than political posturing and pontifications from podiums.
Kimberly Lord Stewart is an award-winning investigative food reporter, the former editorial director of Functional Ingredients magazine, and the author of Eating Between the Lines, The Supermarket Shopper’s Guide To The Truth Behind Food Labels.Complete bio.