The Pulse of Natural Health Newsletter

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Who Is the Number One Foe of Supplements on Capitol Hill?

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Capitol Hill_deep blue skyNow that Henry Waxman is retiring from Congress, it is clearly Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). State Action Alert!

Sen. Durbin has long demonstrated a bias against dietary supplements. Here’s a taste of his career-long attempt to give FDA the power to sweep thousands of supplements off the shelves:

  • In 2004, Sen. Durbin proposed an amendment to a defense funding bill. This has been a frequent tactic of his, using must-pass legislation to push his agenda in the form of unrelated amendments so that anti-supplement proposals can slip into law unnoticed and without debate. This amendment restricted access to nutritional supplements on military bases and created reporting requirements that were stricter than for over-the-counter drugs. Eventually Durbin agreed with supplement defender Sen. Hatch (R-UT) to drop his amendment. In return he agreed to legislation creating an Adverse Event Reporting (AER) System for supplements. The bill passed in 2006.
  • As a follow up to the 2006 bill, in 2009 Sen. Durbin along with Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI), John Dingell (D-CO), and Henry Waxman (D-CA) asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate supplement adverse event reports (AERs). This resulted in a report published that same year: “GAO Report to Congressional Requesters: Dietary Supplements FDA Should Take Further Actions to Improve Oversight and Consumer Understanding.” The most notable finding was that the FDA had seen a threefold increase in dietary supplement AERs compared to the previous year. There’s a good reason for that: the legislation requiring AERs of dietary supplements did not go into effect until 2008. Of course the number of reports will be higher after reports become mandatory!
  • Never one to let a good crisis go to waste, in 2011 Sen. Durbin used a troubling but isolated incident—the sale of melatonin-filled brownies called “Lazy Cakes”—to ask the FDA to clarify its authority to regulate foods that contain additives, such as the hormone melatonin, and to clarify the difference between conventional food and dietary supplements. This request simply ignored the fact that clear regulations already existed on both these issues. Since Lazy Cakes were not dietary supplements, the FDA would regulate them as food. Ingredients that are intentionally added to food—in this case, melatonin—are food additives. Food additives require pre-market approval from the FDA based on data demonstrating safety in a food additive petition. Lazy Cakes did not submit a petition to the FDA as they should have, so were already subject to FDA enforcement under existing law. Sen. Durbin at the time seemed to us to be trying his best to confuse this issue in order to paint supplements as being unregulated, which is simply untrue. This was always nothing more than a matter of enforcement, not authority.
  • Following the Lazy Cakes incident, Sen. Durbin introduced S.1310, the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act of 2011. He tried to create a new, difficult registration system for supplements, which we were convinced was just a first step toward pre-approval by the FDA of any supplement sold. He also wanted more extensive labeling requirements—good in theory, but not in the hands of FDA staffers hostile to supplements and also influenced by the government’s supplement-phobic Institute of Medicine for dosage guidelines.This bill also sought clarification on the difference between conventional foods and dietary supplements, even though the FDA had already promised a guidance document on that subject. All of these provisions seemed to us, based on Durbin’s own remarks, to represent an effort by Durbin to lay the groundwork for a larger move to regulate supplements as if they were drugs. Of the bill’s eight pages, only two sentences addressed food companies such as Lazy Cakes. Almost all of the bill was aimed at nutritional supplements. It is probably no coincidence that Sen. Durbin’s legislation came out on the very same day—the Friday before a big holiday weekend—as the FDA’s draconian NDI (new supplement) draft guidance.
  • Realizing that his legislation was hitting roadblocks, Durbin then sneaked an amendment into a must-pass appropriations bill asking the GAO to examine supplement AER data, and to report back on whether FDA has implemented the recommendations of the aforementioned 2009 GAO report. Fortunately, ANH supporters were able to get the amendment struck from the final bill.
  • A few weeks later, in November of 2011, Sen. Durbin joined with the other leading anti-supplement nemesis, Rep. Waxman, and wrote a letter directly to the GAO requesting that AER data be reviewed—but only for supplements. As we asked then, if consumer safety were really Sen. Durbin’s motivation, why didn’t he and Rep. Waxman also ask the GAO to review AER data for vaccines and drugs, which are far more dangerous and have far, far more reported adverse events?
  • Durbin is tenacious. In May 2012, he (together with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT) once again sneaked an amendment into must-pass legislation—this time it was the FDA Safety and Innovation Act. His amendment would have required supplement companies, among other provisions, to register all their products and all of the ingredients they contain with the FDA. Fortunately, grassroots activists like you sent 90,000 messages in less than twenty-four hours, and the amendment was quickly defeated. We took the opportunity to rebut some of the misinformation Durbin was spreading on the Senate floor.
  • In March 2013, the GAO report requested in 2011 by Sen. Durbin and Rep. Waxman finally came out—and it totally backfired on them both: the report showed that dietary supplements are remarkably safe, and AERs are low.
  • August 2013 saw Sen. Durbin reintroducing his Dietary Supplement Labeling Act (which is identical to the previous version). We don’t think the bill will pass, but will follow it closely and keep you posted on what is happening to it.
  • Sen. Durbin has consistently espoused an anti-supplement agenda to the media, which we have consistently rebutted, point by point. It is easy to argue that supplements should have to prove safety and efficacy and otherwise be treated just like drugs. Shouldn’t there be a level playing field?But as we have repeatedly pointed out, it is extremely rare for a company to take a drug through the FDA approval process unless it is patented. The process costs billions on average and is just too expensive for a non-patentable substance. Since natural supplements are not supposed to be patentable, saying that drugs and supplements should get the same treatment is just a sneaky way of eliminating supplements from sale. Sen. Durbin knows this, but continues to make the misleading “level playing field” argument.

Why does Senator Durbin do this? We don’t know what is inside his mind. But we do know that he enjoys the support of Big Pharma.

Here’s another question. If Durbin is really interested in consumer safety, why doesn’t he concern himself more with Big Food companies? Food fraud is a growing problem—common grocery store items substitute inferior, inexpensive ingredients for high-quality ones. Olive oil, milk, tea, tuna, fruit juices—all are top “fraudster” foods, and some of the ingredients are not even food (grass clippings in tea bags) or are dangerous (olive oil that is mostly hazelnut oil—a hazard for people with nut allergies). None of these substitutions are listed on the label. Sen. Durbin could be focusing his energies on real consumer issues like this one.

Action Alert! If you are an Illinois resident, send a message to Senator Durbin challenging him on pushing misguided and unjustified anti-supplement agenda to the detriment of Americans’ health. Show him that his zeal would be better served in fighting a huge consumer problem: food fraud!

Take-Action11

Share.
  • testing4all

    Whether you are dealing with big pharma or big vitamin, consumers deserve protection. Every manufacturer of any health related product should be required to show that is effective in treating conditions mentioned on the label, that the product sold contains exactly what the label says, nothing more or less.

    This “prove it” model would save consumers billions of dollars every year that would otherwise be wasted on useless or ineffective remedies.

  • testing4all

    Whether you are dealing with big pharma or big vitamin, consumers deserve protection. Every manufacturer of any health related product should be required to show that is effective in treating conditions mentioned on the label, that the product sold contains exactly what the label says, nothing more or less.

    This “prove it” model would save consumers billions of dollars every year that would otherwise be wasted on useless or ineffective remedies.

  • Jo

    I have been taking supplements just about my whole life and they did no harm to me. In fact they helped me. I have no doubt that there may well be greed that’s at the top of this. I have spent years studying and learning about supplements and herbs. I have also learned that one needs to know what supplement will go alright with certain meds. This is called, “education “. Education and knowledge is a far better way to know what your taking and why, then to just throw away a good thing. I suggest that those who want to get rid of our rightful supplements and alternatives for good health…need to get an education on these things and quit trying to be God and really learn something.

  • Jo

    I have been taking supplements just about my whole life and they did no harm to me. In fact they helped me. I have no doubt that there may well be greed that’s at the top of this. I have spent years studying and learning about supplements and herbs. I have also learned that one needs to know what supplement will go alright with certain meds. This is called, “education “. Education and knowledge is a far better way to know what your taking and why, then to just throw away a good thing. I suggest that those who want to get rid of our rightful supplements and alternatives for good health…need to get an education on these things and quit trying to be God and really learn something.

  • Mimi

    Dick Durbin is up for re-election November 4th in Illinois. I intend to vote for his opponent, Jim Oberweis. I encourage all Illinois voters to consider doing the same.

  • Mimi

    Dick Durbin is up for re-election November 4th in Illinois. I intend to vote for his opponent, Jim Oberweis. I encourage all Illinois voters to consider doing the same.

  • Doug Cragoe

    You wrote: “Dick Durbin enjoys the support of Big Pharma.” How does that support go to him? Campaign contributions?

  • Doug Cragoe

    You wrote: “Dick Durbin enjoys the support of Big Pharma.” How does that support go to him? Campaign contributions?

  • James Pelowski

    Gods creation are natural growing plants,animals, birds and fish etc. These if used for food have great value in them. When any of thee are reprocesed into a drug that is when side effects become known. Man will never out smart God. Our bodies heal from creation not from man made chemicals. I would like to see more leaders in congress to keep costs down by using natural supplements as a first choice and if necessary go beyound.

  • James Pelowski

    Gods creation are natural growing plants,animals, birds and fish etc. These if used for food have great value in them. When any of thee are reprocesed into a drug that is when side effects become known. Man will never out smart God. Our bodies heal from creation not from man made chemicals. I would like to see more leaders in congress to keep costs down by using natural supplements as a first choice and if necessary go beyound.

  • troy jones

    Dick Durbin, please leave the supplement industry alone.
    Thanks!

  • troy jones

    Dick Durbin, please leave the supplement industry alone.
    Thanks!

  • Joanne T Becker

    I wrote to Dick Durbin a few years ago trying to find out what the basis of his bias against supplements is and detailed about the importance of vitamins and minerals to good health.
    My letter went nowhere as he only accepts letters/emails from his constituents! His mind is obviously closed and one can only conclude he is firmly under the control of Big Pharma.
    His campaign against supplements is so pervasive and unreasonable, it can be likened to legislating against breathing and eating.

    When he comes up for reelection, please vote him out of office, for the greater good of all!

  • Joanne T Becker

    I wrote to Dick Durbin a few years ago trying to find out what the basis of his bias against supplements is and detailed about the importance of vitamins and minerals to good health.
    My letter went nowhere as he only accepts letters/emails from his constituents! His mind is obviously closed and one can only conclude he is firmly under the control of Big Pharma.
    His campaign against supplements is so pervasive and unreasonable, it can be likened to legislating against breathing and eating.

    When he comes up for reelection, please vote him out of office, for the greater good of all!

  • Diane Karschnickc

    Senator Durbin,
    Please allow the health supplement industry to continue without your interruption.
    If you want to look at an industry that KILLS people, prescription drugs kill over 100,000
    a year…work on them!
    Thank You,

    Diane Karschnick

  • Diane Karschnickc

    Senator Durbin,
    Please allow the health supplement industry to continue without your interruption.
    If you want to look at an industry that KILLS people, prescription drugs kill over 100,000
    a year…work on them!
    Thank You,

    Diane Karschnick

  • Alice Stacionis

    I have written Durbin often about this and many other things and I will not be voting for him…it is time for him to retire…. he is not working for we the people.

  • Alice Stacionis

    I have written Durbin often about this and many other things and I will not be voting for him…it is time for him to retire…. he is not working for we the people.

  • I have arthitis pain in my hands which I keep under control with 3 different supplements. Sure beats damaging my organs with pain killers.
    Also this year, when a doctor tried to get me into the clinic for IV anti-biotics for a UTI, I refused and cleared up my malady with natural supplements.

    I hope Durbin is reading these comments. Pharmaceuticals are killing people every day.

  • I have arthitis pain in my hands which I keep under control with 3 different supplements. Sure beats damaging my organs with pain killers.
    Also this year, when a doctor tried to get me into the clinic for IV anti-biotics for a UTI, I refused and cleared up my malady with natural supplements.

    I hope Durbin is reading these comments. Pharmaceuticals are killing people every day.