Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Speak out Today Against Big Pharma's Latest Power Grab

A disturbing new development is taking shape in Washington...and it’s one that could restrict your freedom to make informed decisions about your own health care for years to come. I’m talking about Senator John McCain’s recent introduction of the so-called Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 (DSSA)—a bill that, despite its misleading name, could put the health of this country in considerable danger.

If you are not already familiar with the details of this proposed legislation, allow me to take a moment to explain: The amendments set forth by the DSSA seek to abolish important aspects of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA)—a set of regulations that works to protect supplements as long as they are derived from the food supply without chemical alteration, or were sold as supplements prior to 1994 (the year that DSHEA was passed). If a supplement fits one of these two descriptions, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) cannot ban it or reclassify it as a drug—a measure that helps to ensure consumer access to affordable alternative medicine.

According to Senator McCain, however, these regulations must be tightened in response to the number of professional athletes who have tested positive for banned substances—positive tests that have allegedly resulted from exposure to illegal steroids through otherwise legal dietary supplements. Naturally, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stands behind what appears at first glance to be a very reasonable call to action. I urge you, however, not to be fooled.

It should be noted that current law already prohibits the sale of any dietary supplements that contain illegal steroids, or any other substances that could be classified as pharmaceutical drugs (such as, for example, traces of Viagra in a supplement marketed for sexual support). The fact that these illicit products remain on the market—and there is little question that, indeed, some do—does not point to a lack of regulation, but rather to a failure on the part of the FDA to do its job adequately.

Simply put, had the FDA been meeting the demands placed upon it in the first place, contaminated supplements of this sort would most certainly not be available—either to athletes or to everyday consumers. Nevertheless, McCain's proposed DSSA is determined to throw the baby out with the bath water—requiring all dietary supplements to be registered with the FDA, and subjecting them not only to the agency’s approval, but also to a set of arbitrary restrictions that will only further pad the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.

How? For starters, under this bill, the FDA could ban a supplement and then hand it over to a pharmaceutical company, to be reformulated as a "drug" and sold under prescription for a much higher price. As a result, Big Pharma could easily secure a monopoly on specific supplement distribution (and in effect, on health care at large) while robbing you of your freedom to choose the supplements you want to take at a price that you can afford. There’s no question that effective dietary supplements cut into drug companies' profit margins, being more widely available at a significantly lower cost. And by co-opting them as drugs, the pharmaceutical industry stands to gain additional marketshare, along with more control over the health of America.

The bill also allows the FDA to cancel a product (at the company's expense) if there is a "reasonable probability" that it is "adulterated" or "misbranded." The FDA’s definition of “reasonable probability” is as broad and subjective as its current definition of the terms "adulterated" and "misbranded"—both of which are often in stark contrast to a manufacturer's or consumer's definition. As a consequence of these murky distinctions, McCain's bill would allow the FDA full discretion and power to decree one supplement safe for the market, while banning many others. Needless to say, the FDA—especially insofar as they are backed by pharmaceutical interests—should not have that much power, nor the authority and ability to violate your rights by interfering with educated consumer choices.

This new "safety act" is simply a way to stamp down the rising competition that threatens big pharmaceutical companies’ profits. Furthermore, it’s fairly clear that the FDA wants its own slice of the alternative health market: Because the FDA does not control supplements, supplements do not go through the FDA approval process and therefore do not support the FDA budget.

The reason for this, however, is that the current FDA drug approval process comes with a price tag of as much as one billion dollars per product—an unsustainable cost for most companies in the industry—not because all supplements are unsafe, or certain to fail the test (a falsehood that many supporters of this questionable bill would have you believe). Furthermore, it is not financially logical for any supplement manufacturer, however research-driven, to spend enormous sums of money on FDA approval when natural substances cannot legally be patented—the very distinction that allows synthetic drugs to be sold at exorbitant prices as a means of recouping expenses.

Without affordable natural alternatives available, there's little doubt that more people will become increasingly reliant on pharmaceuticals—many of which have major side effects, have not been proven safe, or have actually been shown to be dangerous. This threat is further complicated by the fact that many pharmaceuticals only serve to mask serious symptoms—they do not support your lasting health, or address the underlying causes of disease.

The bottom line is very clear: If passed, the Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 will likely result in the disappearance of many supplements currently on the market, and the manufacturers that remain will be forced to pass along their increased costs to you, the consumer. With the majority of their competition eliminated, Big Pharma will be left to run the show, providing you with only toxic, highly expensive drugs—not the affordable natural treatments you seek.

As health-conscious consumers, we simply cannot allow this legislation to stand. That’s why I urge you to protect your access to natural supplements by spreading the word and making your opinion known. Contact your senators today at, and ask them NOT to co-sponsor or support the Dietary Supplement Safety Act. Without your voice, the future of this country’s health remains dangerously at stake.

Click here to sign our petition!

Yours in good health,

Isaac Eliaz, M.D., L.Ac., M.S

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