Opinion: NY Attorney General: Dietary Supplements Industry Slam

The Journal of Nutritional Health and Food Science recently published  “Beyond “Belief”: Moving Away From Dietary Supplements Reliance on Consumer’s Good Faith“. The paper was written by Devon Powell, former Chief Operating Officer of the Natural Products Association, in response to the recent actions by the New York Attorney General against GNC.

Devon Powell makes a point that the NY Attorney General may be “conducting what could be construed as more of a smear campaign against the supplement industry than an exercise in consumer protection”.  I’m of the opinion that there was little scientific basis for the accusations.  DNA testing was used to determine if the appropriate plant parts were in the product as advertised.  It’s unlikely that DNA from plants that are extracted or made into teas as dietary supplements would survive the processes involved.  This scientifically flawed approach should not have been tolerated for such highly publicized findings.  It’s like losing your keys in an alley and then looking for them under a streetlight because the illumination is better there.

On the other hand, the media firestorm shed light on the fact that many members of the dietary supplement industry are not complying with FDA regulations for manufacturing their products. The industry isn’t entirely “bad” by any means, else we would hear news about adulterated products more frequently.

There are many dietary supplement manufacturers who have not fully embraced the Good Manufacturing Practices required by the FDA.  The companies that come to InstantGMP have a strong desire to be in compliance, but have not yet figured out how to navigate the complexity of meeting GMPs.  They do, however, care about quality and have taken steps in their own way to ensure their customers get products that are safe and effective.

Powell has become a proponent for passing a law requiring a third party certification for supplement manufacturers. Having a qualified third party certification program as a requirement by law prior to being able to market a supplement product could be beneficial. It could increase consumer confidence by eliminating “bad actors” and offer positive PR for the industry as a whole.

In absence of a law, Powell appears to be a  proponent of pushing the responsibility for controlling quality off the desks of FDA inspectors and into the hands of third party certifiers. This then begs the question “Who’s guarding the guards?” There are no standards for certification outside of the individual companies who offer certification. It is currently possible to pay $500 through the internet and buy a certification. Certification of dietary supplement producers sounds good in principle, but not so much in practice. While a new law requiring certification would be a good idea, FDA auditors who are so overworked that can’t even get to inspecting all of the manufacturing sites would be hard pressed to then check on the certifcations.

What remains for ensuring dietary supplement products meet quality standards and are in compliance with FDA regulations is the opinion of the consumers.  If they demand transparency and compliance before they purchase their supplements, the industry will listen and respond. We see this in action already.  We know that many dietary supplement producers promote their products as made under Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and proudly display GMP certifications.  This has been a response to their customers asking the questions about how these products are manufactured.  It turns out that GMP is good for business. What’s left is to ensure that the NY Attorney General does the proper research before pursuing action against supplement manufacturers and purveyors.

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