FDA Poses Far More Danger than Dietary Supplements

Published August 26, 2011

With the nation’s pharmaceutical market already suffocated by the heavy-handed government regulations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has decided to give this enormous and overloaded bureaucracy even more control over consumer choice and people’s health.

Durbin’s “Dietary Supplement Labeling Act” would allow FDA to regulate the dietary supplement industry, one of the very few health care sectors currently allowed to operate largely free of government intervention. The less-onerous regulatory environment for the dietary supplement industry has allowed it to create an extremely competitive marketplace that has kept costs low for consumers and created a wide variety of choices. Durbin’s law would have FDA come in and do to the dietary supplement industry what it has unrelentingly done to pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and other industries–reduce choice and raise prices.

The legislation would grant FDA and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) the power to decide what qualifies as a dietary supplement or dietary supplement ingredients, and to determine for consumers what is safe.

Although botanicals and dietary supplements have been deemed the “safest products we can use for our health” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Poison Data System, Durbin has introduced his legislation on the premise of “protecting” consumers. But given the details of the legislation and the fact that there have been zero dietary supplement-related deaths in the past 25 years, the only thing Durbin seems to want to protect and provide for is FDA.

The legislation would require manufacturers to register all dietary supplements with FDA and change their labels to meet FDA requirements. Once FDA starts finding various supplements unsafe, as it surely will even though there have been no fatalities in the past quarter-century, costs will rise, and consumers’ choices, access, and overall health care will suffer.

Board-certified clinical nutritionist Byron Richards agrees consumers will undoubtedly suffer: “The cost of dietary supplements will skyrocket due to the unnecessary regulatory burden imposed upon supplement companies, ongoing legal wars, and reduced competition in the industry.”

As with previous drug regulation by FDA, innovation will be stifled. Companies will have a greatly reduced incentive to create new supplements, because of the likelihood the government will prevent those supplements from ever reaching consumers. Spending on research and development of new products will often be wasted under such conditions, so companies simply won’t bother.

Thus Durbin’s law would drastically cut the quantity and quality of dietary supplements available for purchase, and prices would rise as businesses leave the industry and competition is reduced. This has been the effect of FDA’s notoriously slow approval process for pharmaceuticals. Under Durbin’s law, consumer access to supplements would be greatly restricted, and consumers who prefer natural health treatments would be robbed of their ability to choose among different products. All of this under the guise of protecting consumers!

As such blatantly anti-consumer legislation indicates, what the nation really needs protection from is government, not dietary supplements. Instead of attempting to expand FDA’s authority, Congress should be looking for ways to make FDA more effective and efficient and less intrusive in the areas it already covers.

Countless lives would be saved and a huge amount of needless suffering averted if Congress would reform the drug approval process to allow new, innovative, lifesaving drugs reach patients faster. The real danger to people’s health is not the industry that’s trying to find solutions–it’s the politicians who are trying to prevent them.

Kendall Antekeier ([email protected]) is the health care legislative specialist at The Heartland Institute.