In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued 73 Warning Letters involving dietary supplement products with a clear focus on the marketing of illegal swine flu (H1N1) products. In 2010, FDA issued 41, reflecting a decline in H1N1-related warning letters corresponding to the decline in public concern about the virus. Also 2010 saw the first warning letters for supplement Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) violations.
Our review identified a total of 41 warning letters concerning dietary supplement products in 2010.
Target of Letter
Number of Letters
Heart Disease/cardiovascular claims
Cold/Flu (other than H1N1) Claims
Other “drug/disease” claims
Claims concerning “FDA approval”
Technical labeling errors
Claims made on labels and labeling
Claims made on websites
Claims made in metatags
Claims made in broadcast or print advertising
Many of 2009’s warnings letters (37 out of 73) were issued to companies making H1N1 claims about their dietary supplements – a hot issue and a high-priority for the FDA at the time. In 2010, that number dropped to 5.
With the dietary supplements GMPs in full effect, this year FDA issued 8 letters concerning GMP violations. This number is likely to rise as the number of inspections increase.
Relatively Consistent Volume
Taking out all of the H1N1-related letters (there were 5 in 2010), our three-year data shows some consistency in number of dietary supplement warning letters:
Web sites still a focus
As with previous years, the majority of the Warning Letters in 2010 involved claims made on web sites. FDA can consider any statement or claim that appears on dietary supplement web pages to be a labeling claim for the product, including claims made in metatags.
No Hot Button Health Issue
Aside from the increase in GMP-related Warning Letters, this year shows a certain amount of evenness across the board. While Warning Letters for cancer and other disease claims still lead the field, as they have in the past, no one category of products stands out as representative of FDA’s focus this year.
What is a warning letter?
The agency sends warning letters to manufacturers or marketers to inform them of violations of FDA laws and regulations. FDA may observe violations during an inspection of manufacturing or other facilities, or when otherwise reviewing product labelling, including claims made on web sites.
A primary area of FDA’s focus for dietary supplements is the distinction between permissible ‘structure/function’ claims and unlawful ‘disease’ or ‘drug’ claims - i.e. claims that state or imply the product will treat, cure, or prevent a disease.
Ivan Wasserman is a partner, and La Toya Sutton is an associate at Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Washington, DC. They specialize in advertising and labeling issues for the food and dietary supplement sectors.