“There are challenges in the dietary supplement industry in that laboratories supplying fictional results in lieu of performing appropriate analytical tests may mislead their clients and the public. This is a practice known as ‘dry labbing,’” said Frank Jaksch, founder of Irvine, CA-based ChromaDex, who appeared as an industry expert for the story. “The Dateline NBC investigative segment was an important first step in addressing this problem. Consumers need to have confidence that what is on the label matches what is in the product.”
Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), Washington D.C., said the trade association is concerned when a few companies engaging in fraudulent and criminal activity overshadow the legitimate products sold by responsible companies. “By law, every single bottle of dietary supplements should contain what is on the label and what is on the label should be in the bottle. We take seriously the allegations raised by this television program of fraudulent laboratory practices, and urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use its ample legal authority to take legal action against the companies involved in these illegal activities.”
Responsible companies follow Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations that became fully effective in 2010, he added. “These rules prescribe step-by-step requirements for the manufacturing and testing of dietary supplements—from the raw ingredients coming into a plant to the finished products headed for consumers—and place absolute responsibility on the manufacturers and distributors, including the actions of any testing labs they hire.”
The Dateline NBC segment focused on a liquid vitamin product, Total Body Formula, which has been off the market since April 2008, according to the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), Silver Spring, MD, and a sting operation targeting Atlas Biosciences, a laboratory that failed to identify an elevated level of selenium in the product.
AHPA said laboratories such as the one depicted on the recent news segment do not represent the mainstream of laboratories that service the food, dietary supplement, drug and allied industries. Such laboratories have also long been subject to FDA inspection and prosecution. “The specific situation of a laboratory’s failings covered by Dateline NBC is not representative of the responsible supplement industry,” said Steven Dentali, chief science officer for AHPA. “The show failed to recognize the expertise found in hundreds of supplement companies that understand how to properly qualify a third-party testing laboratory. Knowledgeable manufacturers know how to choose a lab and to verify results.”
Jeff Wright, president of the Natural Products Association (NPA), Washington, D.C., added his comments. “Consumers can trust what they read on the labels of dietary supplements. We share the concern about the issue of ensuring that products contain what the label claims and are not contaminated. This issue is highlighted, from time to time, in most consumer products industries, including foods, drugs and toys.”
NPA supports the goal of superior quality within all industries, he added. “Fortunately, consumers are smart enough to understand that a few or occasional lapses in quality assurance should not translate into suspicion of an entire category of products, especially one with a strong history of safety. Otherwise, people may not eat eggs, spinach, tomatoes or pistachios today.”