Just how much longer will the dietary supplement industry continue to be under attack? And more importantly, has the damage already been done?
It's been nearly three months since New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched his investigation into the dietary supplements industry by issuing cease-and-desist letters to four major retailers - GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart - calling on them to pull their own brands of herbal supplements from their shelves, following an investigation by his office that found nearly 80 percent of the products tested from those stores contained none of the plants listed on the products' labels. GNC, as you may know, reached an agreement with the attorney general's office in late March whereby the company will use DNA tests to authenticate the plants that will be used as ingredients in its herbal supplements. Some industry experts applauded the agreement, while others said it set a dangerous precedent going forward.
Of course, the questionable DNA testing methods used have come under hard scrutiny by the likes of the Natural Products Association (NPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and other industry groups, but that didn't prevent Schnedierman and 13 other state attorneys general from sending a letter to Congress requesting an investigation into herbal supplements and calling for more regulatory oversight of the industry by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Schneiderman and his counterparts, despite admitting that the federal good manufacturing practices currently in place for dietary supplements are sufficient, continues to push forward in what is seemingly becoming a "witch hunt" at the expense of taxpayer dollars.
While the two sides continue to slug it out and the NPA calling for a grassroots campaign to attempt to prevent Schneiderman from taking further action, a larger question for the industry at-large may be, "Has the damage already been done?" While little has yet to be determined legally regarding the outcome of the dispute, the danger here for the dietary supplement industry is that in the court of public opinion, they may have already lost.
Of course, a Harvard-led study early last month that indicated that a handful of weight-loss and sports supplements contained amphetamine-like ingredients, not the plant extract listed on the label of the product, didn't help the cause.
For those who have long supported the dietary supplement industry, not much will change. Natural products manufacturers, suppliers and retailers alike will strongly defend the methods used to test and regulate their industry and will continue to fight for its survival. On the other hand, those who have long opposed or questioned the industry now have more ammunition at their disposal to challenge every move the industry makes. And finally, the real danger here is in convincing those consumers who have long been considering walking into your store to try a natural remedy or supplement might now be turned off by the ongoing negative press.
So what's the next step? Will the letter to Congress sent by Schneiderman and the 13 other state attorneys general be enough to eventually push the industry under regulation by the federal government? Does DSHEA carry no weight here?
For now, the smart move for the dietary supplement industry is to continue to provide the quality products that it's always provided. I also encourage you to take part in NPA's grassroots campaign and to join in fighting the good fight.