Consumer Health Digest #10-24
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 17, 2010
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.
Senate hearing highlights supplement industry problems. The Senate's Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on May 26 to discuss the safety of dietary supplements. The hearing, titled "Dietary Supplements: What Seniors Need to Know," highlighted concerns with current enforcement of dietary supplement safety standards.
- The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported its findings of widespread illegal advertising and product contamination.
- The FTC described how the agency works and noted that it has filed more than than 100 enforcement actions against herbal and dietary supplement products.
- ConsumerLab.com reported that about 25% of products it has tested had a quality problem, most often because they contained less of key compounds than was stated on the product labels.
- Consumers Union called for mandatory manufacturer registration, mandatory recall authority for the FDA, increased safety requirements, better information for consumers and providers, comprehensive reporting of adverse events, improved quality assurance, greater effort to remove contamination, and expanded resources for the FDA.
- An FDA official reviewed the current laws and stated that the agency's enforcement actions related to dietary supplements target products that pose the greatest risk to public health.
- The Council on Responsible Nutrition, which testified on behalf of itself and four other trade associations, described industry self-regulatory efforts and suggested that most of the problems were due to "bad actors in the industry—those companies, whether they are manufacturers or retailers, that are either unaware of the extensive regulatory framework governing dietary supplements or are willfully breaking the law."
Shortly before the hearing, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced the Dietary Supplement Full Implementation and Enforcement Act of 2010 (S.3414) to increase the FDA's regulatory power. Ironically, most of the FDA's difficulty in protecting against herbal and dietary supplement problems are due to the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994, which Hatch and Harkin shepherded through Congress. Quackwatch has summarized the testimony and posted links to the relevant full reports and a video of the hearing.
Antivaccination claims skewered. Infectious disease specialist Mark Crislip, M.D., has written a devastating critique of misinformation on the Medical Voices Vaccine Information Center Web site of the International Medical Council on Vaccination. His article debunks the "core claim" in 20 posted articles by various authors. [Crislip M. Medical Voices: Always in error, never in doubt. Science-Based Medicine Blog, June 18, 2010]
NCCAM / OCCAM defunding urged. Steven Salzberg, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the University of Maryland, College Park, believes that the National Institutes of Health should stop promoting pseudoscience. In a recent blog, he states:
This past week, President Obama called on all federal agencies to voluntarily propose budget cuts of 5%. Well, Mr. President, you might be surprised to learn that there's a way for you that cut the National Institutes of Health budget without hurting biomedical research. In fact, it will help. Here's my proposal: save over $240 million per year in the NIH budget by cutting all funding for the two centers that fund alternative medicine research—the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). Both of them exist primarily to promote pseudoscience. [Salzberg S. Save taxpayer $$$: Eliminate alternative medicine research. Forbes.com, June 18, 2010]
Leading skeptic dies. Martin Gardner, a leading debunker of pseudoscience, has died at the age of 95. [Martin D. Martin Gardner, puzzler And polymath, dies At 95. New York Times, May 23, 2010]
- Gardner produced more than 70 books on magic, puzzles, philosophy, literature, fringe science, and many other topics.
- His 1950 book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, a classic examination of pseudoscience, remains in print and is still relevant today.
- His "Mathematical Games" column was published in Scientific American from 1956 to 1981.
- In 1976 he helped found the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which is now called the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI).
- He contributed to the CSICOP/CSI's magazine (Skeptical Inquirer), regularly from 1983 to 2000 and occasionally up to the time of his death. His most recently published column was a blast called "Oprah Winfrey: Bright (but gullible) billionaire."
This page was revised on June 19, 2010.