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Readers’ Corner: Should We Really Want Supplement Oversight Out of FDA?

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Would creating a new federal agency just for supplements make things better or worse?
In our recent article on Sen. Durbin’s bill and his credibility problem, we wrote, “Assuming that Sen. Durbin is sincere—and we assume he is, despite his misleading arguments—he should create a new federal agency to be in charge of supplements. That would at least begin to make possible sensible federal oversight of the supplement industry.”
Lone Voice responded:

“Whoa, back up! ANH, I agreed with every word you wrote, before this paragraph. But I have to react with raised eyebrows to the above statement. HUH? The Feds should create another agency to…“be in charge of supplements”?…Why on earth would another government entity be any more effective than the FDA?…What we need, ANH, is less regulation and not more of it. To play musical chairs is only to play one more game….

“Can you please explain your thinking to us in your above statement? This strikes me as being at odds with all that, up until this very moment, I have always perceived you to be. Thank you for your open-book response and for your clarification. Sometimes impressions can be wrong, and when they are, they need to be corrected. I will look forward to your posted response, here. Thank you for all that you do, I have been following (and forwarding) your articles, with keen interest and appreciation for your brave and ethical work.”

Dear Lone Voice,
Thanks for an excellent question. And also for your belief in us.
This is not actually the first time we have suggested moving supplements out of the FDA. Here is what we said in an earlier article: “[We need] to move supplements out of the drug agency and into their own agency under Health and Human Services. It doesn’t work for the supplement regulator (currently FDA) to be so beholden to drug companies, since drug companies are very afraid of supplement competition, despite the current government gag orders forbidding supplement makers from explaining their medical prevention and treatment uses.”
Here are some of our other readers’ responses to that idea:

Charlene: “Please move supplements out of the drug agency into their own….It doesn’t work for the supplement regulator to be so beholden to drug companies, since drug companies don’t like the competition. Thank you.”

md: “Removing FDA from having any control over supplements has been my dream for years. What can ANH-USA members do to help move this notion forward?”

Gmic: “Your suggestion to move oversight of supplements from the purview of the FDA to its own agency is fabulous. Thanks for battling on all of our behalf!”

But Kathy had a doubt:

“Are you sure supplements would be safe under [a new agency]?”

Kathy and Lone Star are right to have their doubts. But we still think it would be a good idea to move supplements out of FDA. Here is the main point for us: Big Pharma is currently paying for a large part of the FDA budget. FDA employees’ salaries are indirectly paid by drugs, and they know it. When FDA employees leave the agency, they often hope to be hired by drug companies at much higher salaries. FDA outside experts are commonly paid by drug companies. The FDA has even had the gall recently to announce that it would suspend the few remaining conflict-of-interest rules so that it could hire more experts paid by drug companies.
Drug companies are afraid of competition from supplements, which are so much cheaper, usually safer, and often more effective. They know the only thing that limits competition from supplements is FDA censorship of supplement advertising—in particular, the refusal to allow any reference to valid, documented scientific research if it relates to a disease. But it isn’t just the drug companies that fear supplement competition—so does the FDA, apparently, because the agency depends so completely on drugs for funding.
Under these circumstances, it would help to get supplements out of the FDA. Would it solve everything? No. Would it help? Yes. To be cynical, the employees of this new agency would only have their jobs because there is a supplement industry! If the FDA thinks it has an economic incentive to suppress or kill the supplement industry or to turn supplements into drugs, these employees would have the opposite incentive.
Of course, this could all go wrong. Drug interests could somehow get control of the new agency anyway. Or it could be filled with FDA-trained personnel who just can’t shake the old thinking. But it could hardly be worse than the status quo.
We hope that explains our thinking a bit. It would be nice if government employees could be expected to devote themselves to public service and to the best possible outcome for the public without any thought of their own economic future. In the real world, we can’t expect that. And getting supplements out of the FDA would at least be a step in the right direction.

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