Learning from the GSK weight loss petition

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Weight loss, Nutrition

As the initial shock of a petition attacking the dietary supplement weight loss category starts to wear off, industry needs to work on developing a unified protection strategy, say US trade associations.

The key consensus coming out of a discussion with the heads of the nation’s supplement and herbal trade groups was that the petition filed earlier this year by drug firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is “going nowhere”.

Filed together with the American Dietetic Association, The Obesity Society and Shaping America's Health, the petition seeks to prevent dietary supplement products from claiming they can promote, assist or otherwise help in weight loss. Such claims, they say, should be considered disease claims.

Going nowhere

The petition – which was generally considered to be extremely well-crafted and well-researched – had initially caused some major concerns in the supplements world.

However, with the dust settled, industry players now appear confident that the US regulator would not let such a petition pass.

“I doubt this will go anywhere,”​ said Loren Israelsen, executive director of the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) at the recent Supply Side West trade show in Las Vegas.

Israelsen was speaking at a seminar on the GSK petition organized by ingredient firm Sabinsa – which markets Forslean, a weight loss ingredient. Other speakers were Michael McGuffin (American Herbal Products Association), David Seckman (Natural Products Association) and Steven Mister (Council for Responsible Nutrition) and Marc Ullman (Ullman, Shapiro, Ullman – who wrote the comments Sabinsa filed with FDA in response to the petition).

No unified response

The seminar, which took the form of a discussion, reflected a general feeling that the weight loss petition was ‘old news’, which would be unlikely to lead to any changes. However, it did raise some important points that industry needs to consider, said the speakers.

“If we were to be asked ‘what are you best players in the weight loss game’, we wouldn’t have an answer. In the past we would have said ephedra, or hoodia, but now we simply don’t have a unified response,”​ said Israelsen.

“That is tactically and commercially unacceptable. For a category this size, it’s astonishing. Our strategy must be to get a unified response.”

War strategy

The major lesson that was taken away from the GSK commotion has been a recognition that petitions are being used as a new strategy to undermine the supplements industry – a rolling whisper campaign that erodes consumer confidence.

“We shouldn’t think of this as just a petition,”​ said McGuffin.

“We should think of it as a potential strategy with long-term ramifications. Then we need to think about what we need to do in the long term to protect ourselves.”

NutraIngedients-USA.com will soon publish a podcast with industry views on the petition strategy.

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