Key Regulations

Responsible companies in the dietary supplement industry abide by extensive regulations that cover manufacturing, labeling, quality control, safety, post-market surveillance and more. Here is some information on key components of dietary supplement regulation. 

New Dietary Ingredient Notifications

The Food Drug & Cosmetic Act, as amended by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), established that dietary supplements that were in commerce prior to 1994 have a history of safe use, and therefore, can remain on the market without additional safety review. All new ingredients marketed after that date, however, must submit a formal 75-day notice along with evidence that the product is reasonably expected to be safe. This is referred to as a new dietary ingredient (NDI) notification. If FDA has concerns about the ingredient or its safety profile, the agency has clear authority to request more information or to reject the notification and deny the product’s entry into the market. 

Good Manufacturing Practices

Good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for dietary supplements are specific rules for the manufacturing processes of vitamins, minerals, herbs and botanicals, amino acids and all other supplements. Finalized in 2007, these rigorous practices impose higher standards on dietary supplements than food GMPs applied to conventional foods. Dietary supplement GMPs include thorough requirements for identity testing for all ingredients as they arrive at the manufacturer’s site.  Manufacturers must qualify their suppliers before receiving goods, incoming ingredients must be quarantined until their identity is confirmed using scientifically valid methods of analysis, and all components of dietary supplements must meet specifications established by the manufacturer regardless of where the ingredient was sourced.

Manufacturers are accountable to FDA for the manufacturing process as well as the ingredients. During an inspection, FDA has access to all the manufacturers’ records, including access to the country of origin of all supplement ingredients. The existing bioterrorism law already requires all parties in the production and distribution of dietary ingredients to keep records of suppliers and customers (“one up and one down”) that permit the agency to trace the pedigree of ingredients back to their original source. In addition, the GMP rules examine sanitation, batch records for production, employee training, validation of the manufacturing procedures, and testing final products for conformance with the label.

Adverse Event Reporting

In 2006, Congress passed The Dietary Supplement and Nonprescription Drug Consumer Protection Act, commonly referred to as the “adverse event reporting law.”  Passage of this law was strongly supported by CRN and others in the industry as it provides an important regulatory tool for FDA to protect consumers. Under this law, dietary supplement companies are required to report serious adverse events to FDA no later than 15 business days after the company receives the report.

This post-market surveillance program alerts FDA to possible signals or potential patterns of a problem, enabling the agency to identify concerns with ingredient safety, manufacturing issues, contamination (of either raw ingredients or finished products), tampering, and even bio-terrorism. However, adverse events do not demonstrate a causal relationship between the product and the event.

Since the law went into effect, the dietary supplement industry’s track record demonstrates a strong safety profile for the industry’s products both in comparison to other FDA-regulated industries and considering that more than 170 million Americans take dietary supplements. In 2016, the FDA announced it would make data from the Adverse Event Reporting System (CAERS) public.

Additional Safety Protections

Once a dietary supplement enters the stream of commerce, FDA may remove a product if it is “adulterated” or “misbranded.” A product is considered adulterated if it contains unlisted ingredients or is not prepared or packaged under good manufacturing conditions. It is misbranded if its labeling is false or misleading.  In either case, the agency has enforcement authority to seize and destroy the product, impose fines or even imprisonment. In addition, FDA can remove a product from the market if it “presents a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury” under conditions of use recommended in its labeling. A separate provision gives FDA authority to declare a product “an imminent hazard to public health or safety.” In less dramatic situations, FDA can request manufacturers to modify products and claims or to provide warnings to consumers.

The Food Safety & Modernization Act, signed into law in 2011, gave FDA additional authority to issue a mandatory recall when a company fails to voluntarily recall an unsafe food (including dietary supplements) after being asked to by FDA. 

It is patently illegal to add a prescription drug or an anabolic steroid to a product and call it a “dietary supplement.”