Controversy In The US Supplements Industry

The use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) now represents a significant proportion of all healthcare. Recent statistics from the US suggested that 74.6 per cent of adults will use CAM at least once in their lives. The Centers for Disease Control estimate a total expenditure of $36 to $47 billion dollars on CAM in the US(1997 figures). With such a high usage rate, and growing concerns for safety, the FDA is preparing new guidelines in the hope of better ensuring the safe promotion of wellbeing products.


The FDA proposes to classify products based on their ‘intended use’. This proposal has already been met with controversy as critics consider it an expensive change to the market, based on semantics more than real safety. For example, a vegetable juice sold with the aim of satisfying thirst would not be subject to regulation, but the same vegetable juice aimed at ‘treating’ dehydration would be. Under this guideline, products now widely and cheaply available could become much more expensive, and even subject to prescription. The medical costs for the low income population would be extortionate – having to make a doctor’s visit just to pick up the same lotion, vitamins or herbal supplements they’ve used for years would make it impossible to continue a habitual wellness routine. Many poorer senior citizens may be forced to resort to pharmaceutical solutions more readily available under the Medicare system.


The FDA proposal is set to release a statement of their position on the issue, which is not full regulatory policy. However, this may be a method of bypassing the proper Congressional law-making process, where the guidelines will eventually become binding for companies producing and selling supplements in the US. The Senior Citizens League has formed a protest against the pending changes to guidelines and protest that the cost for government and the loss of choice for patients could be devastating. Some critics claim vehemently that this change will do a lot to hasten the bankruptcy of the whole Medicare project. It is hoped that the FDA will focus on real areas of risk, and avoid the tendency to micro-manage the market – many of the people most in need of healthcare could suffer as a result.

Comments are closed.