I happen to believe that there are some cases where the only entity that can be effective at curing an ill of society is government. There are those that believe only the market can effectively cure ills that take place in the marketplace. In my opinion, because money is the actual incentive for business, and good outcomes are the incentive for government, in cases where it is profitable for businesses to cheat, lie, and steal then government’s rightful place is to act as referee, and make all of the businesses operate to a minimum standard, making it less profitable to cheat.
Take supplements, for instance. Once again dietary supplements are in the news.
Retailers to Stop Sales of Controversial Supplements
Vitamin Shoppe, one of the country’s largest specialty retailers of dietary supplements, said that it planned to stop selling all supplements that list on their labels a plant known as acacia rigidula after a study published on Tuesday reported that many of these products contained an amphetamine-like stimulant called BMPEA.
This may be a case of the market reacting and curbing an industry practice before the government has had time to react. This may be a case of industry protecting itself from future litigation. It may be a case of a retailer noting that the government of Canada has banned all of products containing this chemical and sees the writing on the wall.
The Food and Drug Administration itself discovered in 2013 that some weight-loss and workout supplements sold in the United States that list acacia rigidula on their labels also secretly contained BMPEA. The agency found the chemical in at least nine products but never named those products or warned consumers about the risk. Nor did it ask the companies to remove the stimulant from their supplements.
There is a new study of supplements that contain this synthetic stimulant, BMPEA. This stimulant was invented in the 1930s as a replacement for amphetamine, but was never tested on humans.
Although BMPEA was first synthesized in the 1930s as a replacement for amphetamine, it was never introduced as a pharmaceutical drug and its side effects were never studied in humans.
Under federal law, dietary supplements — with some exceptions — can contain only ingredients that are part of the food supply or that were already on the market before 1994. Dr. Cohen said that BMPEA has never been sold as a food or supplement, and as a result any product that contains it is considered adulterated, which would give the F.D.A. the authority to send warning letters to companies that add it to their supplements.
The FDA would be perfectly within its rights to pull these products. These few retailers pulling them is not the same as a national ban. Retailers who continue to carry the products are now benefiting from less competition. The companies doing the right thing are actually acting against their short term business interests.
Why isn’t the government doing the regulation of a potentially dangerous drug properly? This is what Canada said…
The Canadian government issued a public health alert about BMPEA to consumers: “Amphetamine stimulants can increase blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature; lead to serious cardiovascular complications (including stroke) at high doses; suppress sleep and appetite, and be addictive.”
The Food and Drug Administration documented two years ago that nine such supplements contained the same chemical, but never made public the names of the products or the companies that made them. Neither has it recalled the products nor issued a health alert to consumers as it has done with other tainted supplements. The F.D.A. said in a statement that its review of supplements containing the stimulant “does not identify a specific safety concern at this time.”
On what basis does the FDA claim that a synthetic stimulant is not a safety concern, when Federal Law states that “dietary supplements — with some exceptions — can contain only ingredients that are part of the food supply or that were already on the market before 1994.” There have never been drug trials for this stimulant. Not finding a safety concern when, in fact, you have never looked for one is malfeasance. Why would a government agency abdicate it’s responsibilities totally, like this?
Daniel Fabricant, who ran the agency’s division of dietary supplement programs from 2011 to 2014, had been a senior executive at that trade group, the Natural Products Association, which has spent millions of dollars lobbying to block new laws that would hold supplement makers to stricter standards. He left the F.D.A. last year and returned to the association as its chief executive. His current replacement at the F.D.A.’s supplement division also comes from the trade group.
“To have former officials in the supplement industry become the chief regulators of that industry at the F.D.A. is like the fox guarding the hen house,” said Michael F. Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.
Normally I would say that just because you used to work in the industry you are being asked to regulate you are not disqualified. If you leave your government post and immediately go back to the industry you were regulating, likewise you’re not automatically assumed to not have done the nation’s business properly. However, if, during your tenure at the post you make a decision like this one, that allows and maybe even encourages Federal law to be broken, I would say that makes you an accomplice to law breaking, is grounds for impeachment and or imprisonment.
This is a case where some government is worse than no government. We all grew up in a nation where you could count on the Federal government to protect you from the worst abuses of industry and the marketplace. In the past twenty years or so, that safety net has gotten big holes in it. People still think that if it is on your Kroger shelves that it has been deemed to be safe. You just assume that if it’s not on the label, it’s not in the bottle. You guess, wrongly, that if it’s on the label it’s in the bottle. Some regulation, partial adherence to law, and now some looking the other way by government regulators leaves us more vulnerable to shady actors and industry predators. You are going to be more gullible if you think your government is protecting you like it used to. If the government isn’t going to defend us, they should get completely out of the protection business. If we are on our own out there it would be nice to know that in every case and not find out that dietary supplements are unregulated, and that even if they are banned in other countries our country won’t ban them because they have never yet killed any one. I don’t want to ‘beta test’ drugs and supplements and artificial ingredients for industry. Personally, I think the government owes us regulation of business, since we are paying for it.
Stop buying supplements. They are unregulated and they are dangerous.
Don’t wait for government to protect you, they are currently unreliable.
Stop eating processed foods, or anything in a box or bag or bottle, because it’s like the wild west out there. Snake oil salesmen are proliferating. Eat real food from real people that you can know. Take your health into your own hands.
I agree! I know several people who try to use supplements as medicine. Vit C and echinacea for a cold. Glucosamine and chondroitin for joint pain. Bah!! I think most supplements are either unnecessary or do nothing — and some are harmful.
Your comments on the role of government were very touching to me. My mother, a prominent economist who died very recently, really believed in the power of the federal government to do good and stop harm.
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I think I replied in the wrong spot, see my responses to you as replies to my own article. I am new at this…
I am sorry Sarah that you lost such a wonderful role model from your life. I am glad that she made an impact, back when it was easier to make an impact from a neutral position. These days we are more and more on our own.
Thanks, D. I loved her and she loved me.
My mother was very concerned that our country is so politically polarized. Both sides treat politics as a team sport. It’s win or lose only — no compromise allowed. One side is much worse, but it’s on both sides now. The founders would be rolling in their graves
The growing emphasis on demonizing the opposition is the political order of the day, and it’s ruining our federal and state governments. It also poisons the tone of online communications – such a huge part of our political discourse today. People don’t talk about politics much anymore in person or under their full names, complete with accountability and consequences, because doing that is now fraught with danger. People are more inclined to call names online than to have reasonable, nuanced discussion of differences and areas of agreement.
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That was a very nice article. Your mother was very influential. It made me wonder if you have had time to watch the show Mad Men, where a large part of the story revolves around trailblazing women in a man’s world.
I’ll check it out on Netflix.
I really love this blog. I think we are on the vanguard of a movement. REAL FOOD! It will be a revolution if we keep squawking. No one can dispute that real, live food, made from local animals and plants wherever possible, made at home, is better in almost every way than fake, dead, factory-made food. Cost and convenience are the only thing these fake foods offer, and people I know seem mostly unaware that they are so unhealthy, even health conscious people. To wit, my TVP story (feel free to blog on that, btw).
Our economic realities (food deserts, increasing poverty, predatory and misleading corporate marketing tactics) and changing family structure (no more housewives to handle the planning, shopping and cooking of real food) are certainly challenges to going back to real food as a nation, but who could argue with the basic premise that fake food isn’t worth it if it kills you?
I like they way you think and write. Email me at dcarmack at iCloud dot com so that I can find out more about you. Perhaps you could guest write on One Small Change