NPA calls for action on state bill that would restrict access to and post health warning on muscle building supplements

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Zolnierek
Getty Images / Zolnierek
The Natural Products Association is calling for a grassroots response to oppose a bill in Massachusetts that would put sports nutrition and weight management products behind the counter and mandate the posting of a comprehensive health warning.

The legislation was sponsored by State Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton. The bill would prohibit the sale of any dietary supplements “sold or used with the intent of achieving weight loss or building muscle” ​to minors (the bill also addresses OTC drugs). The products would have to be placed behind the counter and accessed only by management-level store personnel.

Rep. Khan’s bill defines these products thus: “‘Dietary supplements for weight loss and muscle building’ and ‘Over the counter diet pills’ may include, but are not limited to, thermogens, which are substances that produce heat in the body and promote more calorie burning, lipotropics, which are compounds that help break down fat during body metabolism, hormones, including hormone modulators and hormone mimetics, appetite suppressants, or ingredients deemed adulterated under 21 U.S.C.A §342. 

Third go round for legislation

This is not the first time that Rep. Khan has introduced such legislation. Her bill in 2016 focused on the risk these products could pose to underage consumers who have an eating disorder​. A bill she put forward in 2017 attracted opposing testimony in opposition from NPA, CRN and Dr Rick Kreider, PhD, of Texas A&M University​ (Dr Kreider was a speaker at NutraIngredients-USA’s recently concluded Sports Nutrition Summit in San Diego).

But this is the most intrusive iteration yet, according to NPA president and CEO Dan Fabricant, PhD. This is because, he said, the new version adds a proviso that a prominent warning must accompany the products.

Stark warning

The precise language of Rep. Khan’s proposed warning would be developed by the Massachusetts State Depart of Health, but would be mandated to, “clearly communicate that certain over-the-counter diet pills or dietary supplements for weight loss or muscle building are known to cause gastrointestinal impairment, tachycardia, hypertension, myocardial infarction, stroke, severe liver injury sometimes requiring transplant or leading to death, organ failure, other serious injury, and death.”

“This is the third session in a row she’s been after this industry and this is by far the worst yet,” ​Fabricant told NutraIngredients-USA. “The proposed warning is like Prop. 65, only worse.”

“So, what, now whey protein is going to lead to death? They don’t have any data points on this. There is no scientific validity to this,”​ he said.

Fabricant noted that Rep. Khan was lumping a potentially huge swath of the supplement industry together, including ingredients that fall beyond the boundaries of the responsible industry. It’s unclear whether the decision about what constitutes a qualifying product would be based on the product’s ingredients, the marketing claims made on the product, or both. 

“If she is talking about drug ingredients, those are already illegal,” ​Fabricant said. “But guess what?  Vitamin D is a ‘hormone modulator.’ And we know that if you don’t get the right amount of vitamin D there is an increased mortality risk.”

Grassroots effort

Fabricant said NPA is encouraging all industry stakeholders to use the organization’s grass roots response tool ​to make their views on the legislation known.  He cautioned against assuming that the proposed legislation is ridiculous on its face and therefore unlikely to pass.

“Bad ideas don’t just come from Washington. I think this is a case of grandstanding, but there is always the chance, however unlikely, that something like this could go through,” ​Fabricant said.

“We have been gentlemanly in the past. We have gone up there and testified.  But now we need people to send in a lot of letters and e-mails, and to make the case that these products are already regulated successfully on the federal level,” ​he said.

“We need to get the message across that these are not the droids you are looking for,” ​he added.

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