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Swine flu supplement fraud will not be tolerated, say regulators and industry

By Lorraine Heller , 04-May-2009

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are warning consumers to stay away from supplements that claim to treat or prevent swine flu, and say they will take aggressive action against companies attempting to benefit from the public health emergency.

US dietary supplement trade associations have also grouped together to issue a joint warning against such products, and to urge their member companies to refuse to stock or sell them.

The swift and coordinated response from both the regulators and industry is a clear sign that a zero-tolerance crack-down against fraudulent players – who have long been the bane of the supplements industry – is now one step closer to becoming reality.

‘Aggressive strategy’

Swine flu, or the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, has taken the world by storm over the past week since its outbreak in Mexico. This morning, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said 985 cases of the virus have been reported in 20 countries, including the US and Canada. US officials have confirmed 226 cases in the country, throughout 30 states.

Almost as fast as the emergence of the virus was the appearance of products that claim to cure or prevent the flu. FDA and FTC on Friday warned the public to be wary of such internet sites or other promotions.

“Consumers who purchase products to treat the novel 2009 H1N1 virus that are not approved, cleared or authorized by the FDA for the treatment or prevention of influenza risk their health and the health of their families,” said Michael Chappell, acting FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs.

“In conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission, the FDA has developed an aggressive strategy to identify, investigate, and take regulatory or criminal action against individuals or businesses that wrongfully promote purported 2009 H1N1 influenza products in an attempt to take advantage of the current flu public health emergency.”

The agencies have warned operators of the websites in question to correct or remove promotions of the fraudulent products.

Last week, NutraIngredients-USA.com heard from food and drug lawyer Marc Ullman that sharp regulatory action was expected in response to the swine flu-generated fraud. To listen to his comments, click here .

Power in numbers

In parallel, dietary supplement trade groups are banding together to protect their industry – and consumers – from the crippling damage generated by bogus products and claims.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the Natural Products Association (NPA) and United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) said in an advisory:

“Marketers and retailers of dietary supplements are urged to refuse to stock or sell any supplements that are presented as treating or curing swine flu, and marketers and retailers should refrain from promoting any dietary supplement as a cure or treatment for swine flu.”

They added that while there are many supplement products that could help enhance immune health, therapies for treatment of swine flu can only be recommended by qualified healthcare professionals or public health authorities.

The associations said they are all “committed to recognizing that there are some health conditions for which the choice of self-care should be actively discouraged. The current global outbreak of swine flu is such a condition.”

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