FDA Cracks Down On Dietary Supplements

Director James Neal-Kababick examines a sample being analyzed, Wednesday, June 6, 2007, at the Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore. The lab looks at components of dietary supplements to be sure they are what they say they are. AP Photo/Jeff Barnard

For the first time, manufacturers of vitamins, herbal pills and other dietary supplements will have to test all of their products' ingredients, the Food and Drug Administration announced Friday.

The agency is phasing in the new rule, which is designed to address concerns that existing federal regulations allowed supplements onto the market that were contaminated or didn't contain the dietary ingredients claimed on the label.

Last year, the agency found that some supplements contained undeclared active ingredients used in prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction. In the past, regulators found supplements that didn't contain the levels of Vitamin C or Vitamin A that were claimed.

If, upon inspection, the FDA finds that supplements do not contain the ingredients they claim to contain, the agency would consider the products adulterated or misbranded. In minor cases, the agency could ask the manufacturer to remove the ingredient or revise its label. In more serious cases, it could seize the product, file a lawsuit or even seek criminal charges.

Dietary supplements; pills, liquids or other products people take to improve their diets; are a $22 billion industry.

Most companies already test their raw ingredients once they come into the plant, said Steve Mister, president and CEO for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing about 65 manufacturers.

"This raises the bar so that all have to comply," Mister said.

The new rule goes into effect Aug. 24 and will have a three-year phase-in that gives smaller manufacturers more time to comply. However, even the largest of the manufactures won't have to comply until June 2008.

The rule applies to all domestic and foreign companies that manufacture, package and label supplements for sale in the U.S. It requires them to analyze the identity, purity and strength of all the ingredients that go into their products before they are distributed.

It also includes requirements for record keeping and handling consumer complaints.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, who has testified before Congress on problems with dietary supplements, said the new rule does not ease his concern that unsafe supplements are too easy to bring to market.

"You still don't have to show the product is safe. You don't have to prove it works," said Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

Congress limited the Food and Drug Administration's oversight of vitamins and other dietary supplements in 1994. The new rule is a product of that law, meaning that the rule took nearly 13 years to develop. Under the old regulations, supplements were governed by the same rules that applied to producing foods.

"The final rule will help ensure that dietary supplements are manufactured with controls that result in a consistent product free of contamination, with accurate labeling," said Dr. Robert E. Brackett, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
  • Kenly Walker

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