Consumer Reports Publishes Slipshod Report on Dietary Supplement Industry—Disregards comprehensive regulation of industry, long and safe history, and most pressing problem facing industry

Washington, D.C., Wednesday, October 30, 2019—The latest issue of Consumer Reports is nothing short of bad medicine—a bitter pill we’ve seen before—and the kind of snake oil the magazine so hypocritically rails against. The cover feature, while purporting to protect the well-being of its readers, is instead a thinly veiled and poorly researched assault on the dietary supplement industry with ill-informed opinion posing as fact. In a broad sweep, the articles shortchange dietary supplement regulations, undermine the agencies and the hardworking Americans who enforce the regulations, and cherry pick science in favor of the publication’s anti-supplement bias. Most disturbing, however, it ignores the problem that desperately needs attention and immediate action; that is, adulterated products masquerading as dietary supplements marketed by rogue actors. 

“If Consumer Reports’ intention is to expose threats and warn consumers, then the publication utterly failed. Today, consumers are actually at risk from adulterated products, and while this threat exists only at the fringes of the industry, it is one that can and must be eradicated,” said Steve Mister, president & CEO, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). “There is no better time than now to improve the industry and increase consumer safety. For once, we must establish a clear picture of the dietary supplement marketplace for the government agencies who regulate the industry and one common sense way to achieve that is by creating a mandatory product listing.”

A mandatory product registry, for which CRN is currently lobbying on Capitol Hill, will allow FDA to see for the first time the breadth and extent of the supplement marketplace. It will also allow FDA to determine who is using a particular ingredient, what claims are being made on the label, and whether the contact information for reporting an adverse event is properly provided. 

“Responsible actors have nothing to fear from a mandatory product registry,” said Mr. Mister. “Of course, some disreputable actors will ignore the registry requirements, but this law would make it easier for FDA to identify their failure to file and to prosecute them.” 

Last week, the so-called “unregulated” industry, as dubbed by Consumer Reports, recognized the 25th anniversary of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), the law that regulates dietary supplements, with a congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus briefing on Capitol Hill. At the briefing, three legal experts presented on the robustness of DSHEA while acknowledging that the law was not created to be static. Thus, since DSHEA was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994, new safety measures have been advocated for by industry and enacted to further enhance the original law. (Since 1994, the industry advocated for, and helped to enact, additional measures to further bolster the regulation of dietary supplements. See references below.)

“Legitimate, science-based testing standards are widely accepted and used by our industry—and others—to ensure safe and quality products come to market. Well-respected, independent certification bodies routinely evaluate both manufacturing practices and the contents of finished products to provide consumers with added assurance. The industry’s vast adherence to these standards is one of the many factors that has contributed to dietary supplements’ wide-margin of safety,” said Andrea Wong, Ph.D., senior vice president, scientific & regulatory affairs, CRN. “As a scientist, I am disappointed that a consumer publication would disregard these best practices that responsible companies take seriously and essentially establish its own arbitrary standards that are neither grounded in science nor relevant to consumer safety.”

As dietary supplement industry leaders work tirelessly with FDA, Congress and key stakeholders to further enhance the regulatory framework of DSHEA, including the consideration of a practical solution such as a mandatory product listing, CRN encourages influential organizations, especially those that reach consumers, to update their narratives for the benefit and wellbeing of consumers.

“Retreading the same old path, reprinting the same story as Consumer Reports has done here, is not only unproductive, but also disingenuous to innocent consumers who naively pay for this content with the assumption it is factual,” said Mr. Mister. “Here are the facts: First, there will always be low levels of lead found in products naturally sourced from plants grown in soil—whether it’s an herbal extract or the produce found at a farmer’s market—and the law permits these levels because they are not unsafe. Second, opening up a dialogue with your doctor is one of the best ways to ensure proper selection and safe use of dietary supplements. And third, seventy-seven percent of Americans take dietary supplements each year, including popular products like the multivitamin, vitamin D, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics, and when taken responsibly, they can play a valuable role in helping Americans live healthy lifestyles.”  

Additional standards for safety and quality control enacted since 1994:

1.    2002: Bioterrorism Act
2.    2004: Anabolic Steroid Control Act
3.    2006: Dietary Supplement and Nonprescription Drug Consumer Protection Act
4.    2007: Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs)
5.    2011: Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
6.    2014: Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act (DASCA)

​​Note to Editor: The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), founded in 1973, is a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing 150+ dietary supplement and functional food manufacturers, ingredient suppliers, and companies providing services to those manufacturers and suppliers. In addition to complying with a host of federal and state regulations governing dietary supplements and food in the areas of manufacturing, marketing, quality control and safety, our manufacturer and supplier members also agree to adhere to additional voluntary guidelines as well as to CRN’s Code of Ethics. Visit Follow us on Twitter @CRN_SupplementsFacebook, and LinkedIn