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Despite the precautions taken by these three organizations, Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, San Diego, worries about supplement safety.
“I can understand why clubs sell and brand supplements,” Comana says. “It is a huge revenue-generating opportunity, considering how people will typically buy supplements regardless. The club mentality, therefore, is why lose a revenue stream by allowing other businesses to capitalize on selling our customers products when you can do it yourself? The issue is safety. Where are the assurances that the supplement will not harm me?”
Concern about consumer safety was discussed in October 2010 at the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN) Annual Symposium for the Dietary Supplement Industry in Austin, TX. The council’s biggest worry is product contamination, something that would be difficult for consumers to forgive.
“My fear is that we have this great consumer trust, and that one event can change that forever,” Jim Hamilton, president of DSM Nutritional Products USA Inc., Nutley, NJ, said in a statement on the CRN website. “I think trust is the No. 1 issue.”
Andrew Shao, Ph.D, and senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for CRN, says, “When a place like Bally decides to have its own line, it becomes responsible. They’re a retailer, just like any other retailer. Their brand is on the line, and I hope they take it very seriously to deliver what they promise to the consumer.”
Marino says that Bally is indemnified by its product manufacturer should any problems occur.
Supplements are not tested or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the administration requires that supplements, which are under the umbrella of “foods,” be labeled with accurate information, including the name and amount of each ingredient.
Still, enforcement can be lax, Whitthorne says.
“It’s not like the FDA has a SWAT team that goes out, picks a product off the shelf and takes it back to the lab and analyzes it,” he says. “The DSHEA—the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act—really puts the responsibility on the manufacturer to do the right thing.”
DSHEA, which was signed into law in 1994, defines dietary supplements as a separate regulatory category of food. Still, supplements can be sold before being proven safe, and the FDA typically only investigates a supplement if it receives a report of an adverse reaction or of a claim being made that has no scientific validation, Whitthorne says.
“That’s where most companies get into trouble trying to overhype a particular product, what a product will do for you,” he says. Supplement manufacturers and retailers can say that a supplement might help support healthy eyes, but they cannot say that that supplement cures macular degeneration, for example.