There has been a movement afoot by the medical and pharmaceutical industries calling for the strict regulation of the manufacture and sale of vitamins and supplements. The justification offered by the med/pharm industries is that consumers should be assured that what is on the label of such vitamins and supplements is exactly what is in such vitamins and supplements -- nothing more and nothing less. In addition, the med\pharm industry wants to make sure that any health claims on the vitamin and supplement labels are true. And, finally, there is always med\pharm talk about the safety of such vitamins and supplements.
Now, I agree. Vitamins and supplements, like every other product on the market, should be safe, contain what they purport to contain, and do what they purport to do. That's just decency, honesty, and common sense. Likewise, I am sure that in the vitamin and supplement industry, some manufacturers are good, honest companies selling good, honest products, while some companies may not be quite so good or quite so honest -- just like every other industry on this planet. For the most part, whenever we make a purchase, the best we can do is do our research, check reputations, lay our money down and hope that we get that for which we have paid.
But, I have to ask, what is really prompting the push for such regulations, and exactly how effective would such regulation be anyway?
Regarding the first question, let's, for the moment, assume that the altruistic justifications given by the med/pharm industries are true. Is it possible that something else is motivating such a push? Sure. Money.
If vitamins and supplements became subject to regulation, the testing, studies and manufacture of such vitamins and supplements would become prohibitively expensive. Many companies would be forced out of business -- less competition for the drugs made by the pharmaceutical companies and pushed by the medical industry.
Of the companies that remain, the costs of such vitamins and supplements would skyrocket, thereby becoming less attractive than the alternative med/pharm drugs.
Finally, it may actually become cost effective and/or profitable for the med/pharm industry to get in on the vitamin and supplement market big time. With an infrastructure already steeped in regulation, big advertising dollars, and a worldwide distribution network, it may not cost as much for the pharmaceuticals to produce vitamins and supplements, and with the combination of the government's imprimatur supporting such vitamin and supplement content and effectiveness and the inflated costs of such vitamins and supplements, don't you think that "pharmaceutical grade" vitamins and supplements would be a big hit?
Regarding the second question, exactly how effective would such regulation be? Well, with respect to labeling, I'd like everyone to read "Food Politics" by Marion Nestle. You'll discover how the various lobbies in the food industry work the government, its regulator, and its regulations to the point where you can't really tell what's in the box or its healthiness, despite the label!
And, if you follow this blog, I don't need to point out how many "FDA Approved" medicines hurt and even kill people.
But, even on a more basic level, does regulation keep bad stuff out of medicines? Did anyone catch the Johnson & Johnson major recall of children's and infants' Tylenol, Motrin, Zyrtec and Benadryl? See "Medicines for kids recalled," Newsday at A17 (Sunday, May 2, 2010). Seems that the products were recalled
"in consultation with the FDA after discovering manufacturing deficiencies that could affect the quality, purity or potency of the medicines. The FDA said some of the products many not meet required quality standards.... Some of the products affected by the recall may contain a higher concentration of active ingredient than specified; others contain inactive ingredients that may not meet internal testing requirements; and others may contain tiny particles, the FDA said."
What those "tiny particles" are was not disclosed in the article.
Now, I point this out not only to show that even with regulations, bad stuff can get in, but also note, it apparently was the MANUFACTURER that issued the recall -- NOT the government agency that's supposed to regulate the industry.