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October 18, 2001
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203
Dietary Supplements: Do We Need Tighter Regulation?
Assembly Panel to Examine Safety, Effectiveness, Labeling and Health Claims of Dietary Supplements

(New York, NY) - Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, was joined today by his colleagues, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs, and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Codes, in sponsoring a hearing on Regulation of Dietary Supplements. The purpose of the hearing was to inform the Legislature about the adequacy of government regulation of the safety, effectiveness, labeling and health claims of dietary supplements. There has been heightened concern about supplements after the recent high profile deaths of young athletes, who were taking supplements containing ephedra, which have been banned by the National Football League. The legislators expect to examine the supplement marketplace, existing laws and regulations and the need for changes, and the need to expand the role of New York State in protecting the health and pocketbook of supplement consumers.

Witnesses expected to testify include Dr. Gary Wadler, Medical Director for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr. Christine Swanson from the National Institute of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, John Cordaro, President and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the leading trade association for supplement manufacturers, several other industry representatives, and legal experts in the field of supplements.

Nearly 160 million Americans spend over $17 billion each year on dietary supplements that some critics believe can be unsafe, ineffective and mislabeled. In 1994 Congress passed the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA), which allowed the sale of supplements without pre-market reviews and permitted health claims on labels with 30 day's notice to the FDA. That law was supported by millions of consumers who were concerned about restrictions on their ability to easily access their favorite supplements. However, recent news reports about the death of athletes using certain supplements have again led to calls for stricter government control over supplement sales and promotional activities by the industry.

Assemblyman Ortiz supports the right of consumers to use supplements in addition to traditional medicine, but he has concerns about the current situation. "Just because a supplement may be derived from a natural source does not mean it is somehow safer or needs less regulatory oversight. Plants and herbs and their ingredients can be very dangerous. The National Football League has prohibited its players from using or endorsing any supplements containing ephedra or the ingredient ephedrine. Some physicians and consumer groups have called for a ban on sales. These supplements are still legally available while similar over-the-counter drugs are restricted. Our government agencies need the legal authority and the resources to properly oversee the safety and quality of products and prevent fraud and abuse in the supplement marketplace."

Assemblywoman Pheffer agreed, "It is estimated that more than half the U.S. population uses some form of a dietary supplement. Due to the widespread use of supplements, it is necessary to review the current regulatory system to ensure consumer safety."

Assemblyman Lentol said, "If anyone selling supplements in New York is committing fraud or they are targeting young people with dangerous products we need to make sure that we have strong penalties to deter those actions. This hearing will help us to determine the need for changes. I would also like to see our federal regulatory agencies, such as FDA, have the ability to quickly act to stop the sale or remove any supplements that pose a threat to consumers."

There is much confusion and controversy over the safety of certain supplements, their effectiveness, the scientific basis for health or medical claims, the FDA's ability to oversee labeling prior to product marketing and general quality parameters of supplements, such as purity and strength. It is the focus of contentious debate whether dietary supplements should be treated as prescription medicine, over-the-counter drugs, foods, or medical food. Assemblyman Ortiz plans to work with his colleagues to push for changes at the federal level and to develop new proposals to protect and inform New York consumers.

New York State Assembly
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