NNFA, which is sitting in on a government reform committee hearing on the regulation of dietary supplements, has issued a position statement.
"Manufacturers stress that the law governing dietary supplements need not be changed," it said.Instead, NNFA suggests FDA should strongly enforce the existing law so as to maintain a better distinction between illegal drugs and dietary supplements.
"We really want to educate members of Congress so that they clearly understand the difference between the two,"NNFA executive director David Seckman told NutraIngredients-USA.
With the media spotlight on illegal drugs found in so-called dietary supplements, the credibility of the supplement industry is at stake. Prompted by an article published in the Washington Post last October, the government reform committee chairman, Congressman Tom Davis, wrote a letter to FDA.
The Post article exposed five products claiming to be dietary supplements, advertised on the Internet as muscle-building aids, that were found to contain illegal 'designer' anabolic steroids when the newspaper sent them to a laboratory for testing.
"While FDA does not approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness," Davis wrote in the letter,"FDA still has the responsibility to ensure that manufacturers do not mislead the consumer about dietary supplement contents."
FDA responded that it was investigating the five steroid companies featured in the Post article - an answer Davis found to be insufficient.
"FDA failed to meet our expectations by offering extremely general answers to our questions and 48 pages of documents that are simply the printed version of a FDA website," Davis responded to the agency in writing.
The interactions between Davis and FDA over supplement regulation are culminating in today's hearing, designed to bring to light FDA's exact responsibility in the issue as well as the role played by independent monitoring groups such as NSF International, US Pharmacopeia, Consumerlab.com and Consumers Union.
Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) from 1994, FDA only oversees post-market approval of dietary supplements. But potential amendments to DSHEA could force dietary supplements to get pre-market approval from FDA, in the same manner as pharmaceutical drugs."We don't think that's necessary," said Seckman. " Dietary supplements are food and no foods have to go through that process."
What NNFA wants is for FDA to go after what Seckman calls "unscrupulous" companies that masquerade as supplement retailers.
Typical consumers of dietary supplements are not at risk of unknowingly taking anabolic steroids, emphasizes the NNFA.
"Those products that have been called into question were marketed as sports supplements, a category that represents less than one percent of total dietary supplement sales," the association said. Seckman also questioned the methodology by which the Post selected products for testing; it is not known whether the newspaper purposely selected products marketed by crooked companies making grandiose claims on the Internet.
A government reform committee hearing can be the beginning of the long process leading to a change in legislation.