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FTC Commissioner Wants More Rigorous Self-Regulation in Dietary Supplement Industry

Federal Trade Commissioner Sheila F. Anthony has called on members of the dietary supplement industry to implement additional and improved self-regulation and said that the media should refuse to run supplement ads that contain claims that are obviously false.

Adding that she was speaking for herself (her term is to expire September 2002) and not for other commissioners or the Commission as a whole, Ms. Anthony told an audience at the Food and Drug Law Institute's 45th Annual Educational Conference in Washington, D.C. in April that, since passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), there has been a "dramatic increase in the marketing of supplements and, with that increase, we have seen more examples of questionable claims ... ."

Anthony named two factors that have had a significant influence over this growth. The first is the Internet, which has made it easier for unscrupulous marketers to sell their products globally. The second is the erroneous belief among some supplement marketers that DSHEA provides a green light to make implied health and disease claims and thus avoid FDA review or approval, which is clearly not the case. Consequently, the FTC has brought over 60 enforcement actions in the past five years challenging false or unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy and safety of a wide variety of dietary supplements, "and we have many more in the pipeline," she said.

"We are also looking broadly at the question of who has liability for deceptive advertising claims," she said. Guidelines published by the FTC in 1998 stated, "...all parties who participate directly or indirectly in the marketing of dietary supplements have an obligation to make sure that claims are presented truthfully and to check the adequacy of the support behind these claims."

Anthony noted that the FTC has acted against manufacturers and marketers, their ad agencies, and expert or celebrity endorsers of products in ads. "Many egregious claims -- particularly for weight loss products -- often appear in the mainstream media. Major national newspapers, magazines, television, cable, and radio stations seem ready to accept the substantial advertising dollars of this industry without question, often airing patently fraudulent ads with claims of extreme, instant and effortless weight loss ... . While many publications screen ads for taste and appropriateness, they appear reluctant to take a few extra steps to weed out obvious fraud," she said.

She said that more measures should be taken to protect the American public against false, deceptive or misleading ads. "The Commission uses a variety of means to combat deceptive claims for dietary supplements. But more needs to be done. I believe that there needs to be more and better self-regulation in the dietary supplement industry. The industry must step up to the plate and take a more active role in policing those in their industry who are engaged in fraud and deception, and are giving the entire industry a black eye," she noted, suggesting that there are responsible and ethical companies whose image is tarnished by those who would mislead the consumer.

"I also believe that the media has an exceptionally important role to play through media screening of problematic ads," Anthony said. "I hope that the media also steps up to the plate and chooses to forgo placing ads that result in a fraud on the public, who, after all, are their customers too." 


[Anthony SF. Combating Deception in Dietary Supplement Advertising [Remarks before the Food and Drug Law Institute 45th Annual Educational Conference, Washington, DC]. 2002 April 16. Available online <>]