NPA urges FDA to be proactive on potenial coronavirus fraud

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

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Getty Images

Related tags Dietary supplement industry disease claims food imports Imported food

The Natural Products Association has attempted to get out ahead of a potential issue for the industry by asking federal authorities to monitor dietary supplement companies claiming to treat coronavirus infections.

The coronavirus issue has garnered international attention after the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China in December.  The Chinese government slapped a quarantine on the city, but the infection had already spread.  New cases were reported today in Germany and Japan, and 15 cities in China are now on virtual lockdown in an attempt to arrest the spread of the epidemic.

Cases increase by 60% in one day

The Chinese government reported today that the number of reported cases had increased by 60% overnight.  At the time of publication, 4,515 cases have been reported worldwide and as of now 106 people have died​ from the virus, all of them in China. Because people can be infected and be carriers of the virus without showing any symptoms, a British public health official said the actual number of cases worldwide could be as many as 100,000.

New cases have been reported in more than a dozen countries, and there have been five confirmed infections in the United States.  More than 100 people in 26 states reportedly have been tested for infections from the virus. 

This is the third outbreak of a coronavirus since 2003.  In that year and in 2004, a coronavirus named SARS began in China and eventually killed 774 people worldwide.  Another outbreak in China, dubbed MERS, began in 2012 and is still simmering in some areas and has killed a total of 858 people in 27 countries.

Coronavirus infections are generally mild, according to health authorities. But older individuals, especially those with pre existing respiratory conditions, and young children are at heightened risk.

Opportunity ripe for fraud

NPA yesterday sent a letter to Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response at the Food and Drug Administration to express NPA’s concern about the potential abuses that could crop up in connection with the current public health scare.

“We encourage the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action against products that claim to treat or prevent infection by the Coronavirus,” ​the letter read.

NPA president and CEO Daniel Fabricant, PhD, also said his organization is concerned about how easily these products can proliferate online.  New products can appear for sale online and make their way into consumer’s hands is much more rapidly today than they could in 2004 or even in 2012.

“We have been in touch with some of the e commerce organizations. We are urging them to take a look at how marketers that sell on their sites are tagging products,”​ Fabricant said.

For example, a search done today on Amazon using the search term ‘coronavirus’ brings up at least two dietary supplements making explicit claims to be able to defend consumers against infections.

Concern about large scale of imports

But Fabricant said the ecommerce sales of dietary supplements are just one of NPA’s concerns concerning the disease outbreak.

“Phase one of our concern is on the health fraud front. While these products may appeal to people who are concerned about getting sick, there is no substitute for doing what is recommended every flu season: wash your hands often; avoid people who are sick; cover your mouth and nose when you cough; and if you’re the one feeling sick, stay home,”​ he said.

“Phase two is our concern about what happens with imports from that region into the US. We have more than two million lines of food products from China coming into the port of Los Angeles alone,” ​Fabricant said.

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