Let's be clear here: steroids, in any form, have nothing to do with dietary supplements. Why McCain introduced a bill linking the two makes no sense. On behalf of Natural Grocers, I recently went to Washington DC to speak with policy staffers in the Senate about DSSA and the related Food Safety bill under consideration. Republicans and Democrats alike have dismissed the DSSA as a bill without any merit whatsoever, and McCain has himself admitted he more or less sponsored DSSA without understanding it. McCain might as well have discovered pot in brownies, and demanded the FDA regulate pastries.
That sports leagues have endorsed the bill is nothing but laughable. The NFL and MLB, in particular, implicitly allowed illegal and unethical performance enhancement use by their players for decades. Sure they want to ally with McCain and DSSA to help repair their images, but that does not mean that DSSA is somehow worthy of consideration outside of the publicity stunt that it is. In fact, I would argue that MLB's endorsement is proof that the bill would have no impact on the development and use of illicit substances.
There are two very important facts to keep in mind when we look at DSSA: first, the supplement industry has a nearly immaculate record for safety; and second, the FDA and other government agencies have more than enough authority to stop the product and sale of illicit or dangerous ingredients in any food, supplement, or drug. The DSSA would do nothing more than reiterate the statutes already giving strong enforcement power to the USDA, FDA, and Public Health Service, among others. If you doubt the FDA and USDA's willingness or ability to enforce existing laws, sign up to receive notification of their warning letters sent to companies making non-compliant food, supplements, drugs or medical devices. Thousands of these cases are pursued by government investigators each year -- any company attempting to hide steroids in supplements, food, or unapproved drugs would be sanctioned immediately.
In the last year or so, new legislation requires that serious adverse events involving most food, drugs, and supplements be reported to the FDA for tracking and follow up. In spite of a robust consumer education campaign that nearly begs consumers to complain, the FDA is having a very hard time finding any adverse events associated with supplements. After all, they are made from plants, and have hundreds of years of history of safe use. Yes, there are certainly some dangerous plants, and suspect preparations made from them. However, these are well known and already disallowed. Yes, some makers created a highly concentrated version of ephedra once, but this was quickly identified and removed from the market entirely.
Natural Grocers sells a lot of supplements (although we never sold ephedra), so we clearly have a stake in seeing the DSSA does not pass. The key issue for us is the mandatory recall authority that McCain's bill would have given to the FDA in cases where a supplement was "misbranded". Misbranded is a highly technical term, not to be confused with marketing a certain "brand" of product. To the FDA, misbranding means a food or supplement must be re-tested and pre-approved like a pharmaceutical drug, based on something stated in its product labeling, product description, its product marketing, or product web site information. What a food or supplement can or can't say abut itselfis beyond the scope of this comment, but suffice to say the FDA considers Cheerios to be a "misbranded drug" because the oats in the O’s can lower cholesterol. It is our position that allowing the FDA to force a mandatory recall of Cheerios, due to a dispute over packaging, is overreaching. (On the other hand, were Cheerios known to cause serious illness, it would be off the market immediately anyway under current law.)
Natural Grocers spends millions of dollars each year educating our customers on health issues and how nutrition can be used to get healthy and stay healthy. By choosing the best foods for themselves – which sometimes includes vitamins and supplements -- our customers are empowered to maintain their optimal health. The Dietary Supplement Safety Act would not have improved our customers’ knowledge, nor improved the safety of their food and supplements, nor kept illicit steroids off the market.
MLB needs to find a different publicity stunt to clean up their image, preferably one that is not done at our customers' expense.
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