Fear not the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Real consumer fear should be directed toward national regulation rather than large international organizations. Our own legislators, in concert with professional sports leagues, pose a much greater threat to the future of dietary supplements. Proposed legislation may limit your choice of herbal products. Earlier this year, legislators attempted to introduce a bill that would tighten restrictions on supplements, which are currently defined as food under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Supplements do not require Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval if the ingredient was marketed prior to 1994.
In February, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) announced co-sponsorship of The Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010, which proposes to require companies to identify all brands, products and ingredients in facility registrations; allow the FDA to solely determine what dietary supplements (herbs) can be sold; allow the FDA to remove any products they deem unsafe, adulterated or misbranded; make retailers responsible for making sure all of their suppliers are in compliance with laws and regulations; and other measures that could limit the availability of dietary supplements.
Coming on the heels of anti-doping initiatives dating to 2009, the bill was touted as an attempt to nix performance-enhancing drug hybrids marketed as dietary supplements. But making retailers responsible for compliance could be a problem for vendors of herbal supplements. Critics also pointed out that the bill allows for arbitrary measures on the part of the FDA.
In March, the senators stopped trying to pass the bill on its own, in part due to public outcry. Instead, parts of the bill are being added to the Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill that was introduced in 2009 and fell by the wayside. This year, the revived bill will work its way back into committees in the House and Senate. A good resource to keep up with this legislation is www.opencongress.org .
Steven Foster is an expert on medicinal plants.