As if Climate Change Deniers and Anti-Vaxxers weren't bad enough, we've got Senator Booby Hatch running interference for the fraudulent dietary supplement racket. Of course, Booby Hatch, like Big Love (his fellow-traveler in LDS circles) wears magical underwear. The garments they wear as an article of faith probably wards off the negative result of ingesting worthless pills, capsules, and powders. If this is (fair & balanced) exposure of fraud, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
The Politics Of Fraudulent Dietary Supplements
By Timothy Egan
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
One pill makes you smarter. One pill makes you thin. One pill makes you happy. Another keeps you energized. And so what if tests conducted by scientists in New York and Canada have found that the substances behind these miracle enhancements may contain nothing more than powdered rice or houseplants. If enough people believe they’ll be healthier, well, it’s a nice racket.
Nice, to the tune of $13 billion a year in sales. And here in Utah, which is to the dietary supplement business what Northern California is to marijuana, a huge industry has taken hold, complete with a network of doctors making unproven claims, well-connected lobbyists and entrenched politicians who keep regulators at bay.
If you want to know how we came to be a nation where everyone is a doctor, sound science is vilified and seemingly smart people distrust vaccinations, come to Utah — whose state flower should be St. John’s wort. Here, the nexus of quack pharma and industry-owned politicians has produced quite a windfall: nearly one in four dollars in the supplement market passes though this state.
We’re not talking drugs, or even, in many cases, food here. Drugs have to undergo rigorous testing and review by the federal government. Dietary supplements do not. Drugs have to prove to be effective. Dietary supplements do not.
These are the Frankenstein remedies — botanicals, herbs, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, dried stuff. They’re “natural.” They’re not cheap. And Americans pop them like Skittles, despite recent studies showing that nearly a third of all herbal supplements on the market may be outright frauds.
The labels say Ginkgo biloba, or ginseng, or St. John’s wort. But testing announced by the state of New York this week found that the Ginkgo biloba sold by Walmart, for example, contained no Ginkgo biloba DNA — it was a mixture of rice, mustard, wheat and radish.
Some of the country’s largest retailers are selling junk in a pill, a step removed from sawdust. Counting on the stupidity of consumers, the big chains don’t seem to care. As of Thursday, four days after Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general, asked retailers to pull the tested products from their shelves in his state, you could still go to Walmart online and buy the allegedly fraudulent products.
So, there is Spring Valley echinacea — with a bold label reading: Immune Health — selling for $8.98 a bottle on Walmart’s website. It comes with a handy “customer review,” touting an “Excellent quality product!” This about a substance that contained no echinacea, according to the attorney general.
Too bad it takes Canada, or the maverick work of someone like the New York attorney general, to get at the truth of this industry, because it is so well-insulated from federal government oversight. Schneiderman’s investigation was prompted by an article in The New York Times Science section, reporting on Canadian findings that some of the most popular supplements were nothing but cheap fillers.
To understand how we got here, you have to go back to 1994, when Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah midwifed through Congress a new industry protected from all but minimal regulation. It is also an industry that would make many of his closest associates and family members rich. In turn, they’ve rewarded him with sizable campaign contributions.
Even though serious illnesses, and some deaths are on the rise from misuse of these supplements, Hatch is determined to keep regulators at bay. “I am committed to protect this industry and the integrity of its products,” he told a gathering of potency pill-pushers and the like in Utah last fall.
In the past, Hatch has been remarkably blunt about helping his family and friends in the fake drug trade. “I do whatever they ask me to do many times because they’ve never asked me to do anything that is improper,” Hatch said in 2011. He was referring to the firm of his son, Scott Hatch, a longtime lobbyist for the supplement industry.
That’s the political side, an all-too-familiar story of mutual beneficiaries born in the halls of Congress. But what about the medical implications? These pills and powders can’t, by law, make specific claims to cure anything. So they claim to make you healthier. The consumer is left playing doctor, reading questionable assertions that course through the unfiltered garbage of the Internet.
“There’s a lot of wrong information out there,” warns the American Cancer Society, in its tutorial on these products. “Even for those who are usually well informed, it can be hard to find reliable information about the safe use and potential risks of dietary supplements.”
And there was this finding reported in the authoritative Annals of Internal Medicine: “Enough is enough: Stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements.” Oh, those elites at the American College of Physicians, what do they know?
So, the industry keeps growing, with 65,000 dietary supplements now on the market, consumed by nearly half of all Americans. The larger issue is mistrust of authority, a willful ignorance that knows no political side. Thus, right-wing libertarians promote a freewheeling market of quack products, while left-wing conspiracy theorists disdain modern medicine in favor of anything sold as “natural” or vaguely countercultural. These are some of the same people who will not vaccinate their children.
Everyone wants to live longer, to be happier, to have better sex. And, if you think you can do it without exercise, or eating enough vegetables, or getting regular sleep, there are a thousand pills for you, sold not far from the candy counter. It’s all based on the honor system. If you trust them, go buy some possibly Ginkgo biloba-free Ginkgo biloba, and thank Orrin Hatch for the unfettered right to be a sucker. Ω
[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]
Copyright © 2015 The New York Times Company
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..
Copyright © 2015 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves