NutraCast Podcast: CSPI’s Laura MacCleery on ‘antiviral' supplements in the marketplace

By Danielle Masterson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: coronavirus, COVID, Cspi, disease claims, DSHEA, Fda, Ftc, nutracast

Over 70% of Americans take dietary supplements, and by now, most consumers have probably noticed the disclaimer that says "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

Under federal law, supplements are prohibited from claiming they can prevent or treat any virus or specific disease.

So why are websites like Amazon laden with supplements that claim they’re a remedy for viruses? To help answer that, Laura MacCleery of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, joined the NutraCast. MacCleery has been the policy director at CSPI​ since 2016. 

The Washington, DC-based non-profit and consumer advocacy group has been actively monitoring such products and claims: In early June CSPI reached out to Amazon, FDA and FTC regarding In 46 products sold on Amazon​ that allegedly claimed to fight viruses.

MacCleery said they never heard directly from Amazon, however, “We did get a thank you note from the two federal agencies.”​ She also pointed out that other sites such as Ebay, Facebook and Etsy are guilty of marketing and selling products with misleading claims.

“There’s a lot of risks in the supplement marketplace, and it’s very poorly regulated,” ​said MacCreery, who maintains the FDA doesn’t have the proper tools to regulate supplements. “It can only issue a warning letter against a bad actor, and then it has to wait for the company to take action as opposed to dealing with a penalty, it has to then refer a case to the Department of Justice and hope that they have the bandwidth to take up the enforcement action and it only has a few staff in Washington and the dietary supplement market is a $60 billion a year in sales with over 55,000 products. So they’re just hopelessly outgunned by an industry that is allowed to sell risky products to consumers and escape any liability for doing so.”

Critics of the industry point out that dietary supplements do not require pre-approval by the FDA before they are released for sale to the consumer. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), the manufacturer is responsible for determining whether its dietary supplements are safe and that any representations or claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading. Industry proponents maintain that the total number of serious adverse events​ is extremely low and that taken as a whole dietary supplements are an extremely safe category of consumer products.

MacCleery wants to see a more top-down approach: “We’re all for a proposal that would give the Food and Drug Administration more tailored enforcement and regulatory authorities.”​ She added that a registration requirement fee could help pay for some of the proposed additional enforcement. 

To hear more on the ideas CSPI has for the industry, listen to the NutraCast in its entirety. You can also subscribe on iTunes here.​ 

NutraCast is a podcast that focuses on insights from inside the nutrition industry. It is a production by NutraIngredients-USA​. Music by Kevin Macleod. 

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