By James J. Gormley
FDA defines economic adulteration as: “The fraudulent, intentional substitution or addition of a substance in a product for the purpose of increasing the apparent value of the product or reducing the cost of its production, i.e., for economic gain.” Suppliers and manufacturers guilty of this are what I would call cheap jacks, somewhat like the itinerant vendors of old who sold shoddy goods and then moved their wagon on.
Unfortunately, the dietary supplement version of this crime has many causes, and we are going to have to attack all of the main drivers if we are going to effectively, or largely, eliminate this practice.
It’s a chicken or egg argument as to whether unethical manufacturers are encouraged by consumers to provide the nutritional versions of the El Dorado or marketers are duping unwitting customers. Added to this mix are ingredient suppliers who are dumbing down products with cheap or dangerous fillers and spiking with either legal actives to cloud results or illegal adulterants to please avid end users.
Just as there is no easy and safe path to weight loss, fitness or any other health goal, there is no legitimate excuse for manufacturers to continue to cut corners or to bottle those illusory magic bullets nor for retailers to stock them nor for consumers to ask for them.
While there are excellent industry programs that can be game-changers if adopted widely, and they should be—such as the NPA’s TruLabel program, the Natural Product Foundation’s Truth in Advertising program, the CRN/NAD advertising monitoring program—where the rubber hits the road is at the city gates, pardon the mixed metaphor.
As an industry, we need to expand our self-enforcement activities and messages to include retailer-specific training materials and consumer-specific public service ads that make it clear that what we gain in price we generally lose in quality, trust and reputation, and that what we surrender in common sense we generally lose with ineffective and dangerous products.
If a U.S. finished product manufacturer vigilantly quarantines ingredient shipments and vigorously tests everything that comes in (from qualified suppliers), if retailers stop stocking those “sexy” but probably spiked products, and if consumers are educated as to how dangerous (and dumb) it is to seek out “too good to be true” products……then we have a chance.