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An Open Letter to Consumer Reports: 10 Misinformation Hazards in Your “10 Surprising Dangers of Vitamins and Supplements” Article

By James J. Gormley

It is personally disappointing for me that Consumer Reports, the flagship of the respected marketplace-empowerment organization, Consumers Union, has once again seen fit to arm the American consumer with detrimental misinformation regarding safe, beneficial food supplements.

In the alarmist piece which appears in the September 2012 issue, the anti-supplement subtitle reads: “Don’t assume they’re safe because they’re all natural.”

Here are the “10 Surprising Dangers” along with some accurate information and perspective:

“1. Supplements are not risk free.”
With 3,000 deaths and 128,000 hospitalizations a year from food poisoning, it is clear that nothing in life is risk-free, but we already knew this. It would be of better service to do an expose on the dangers of properly prescribed pharmaceuticals, which injure over 1 million and kill over 100,00 Americans each year in hospitals alone. The subtitle on a prescription drugs-focused article could read: “Don’t assume they’re safe because they’re FDA-approved.”

The fact of the matter is that food supplements are inherently benign and pharmaceuticals are inherently dangerous; they are part of a completely different risk paradigm. With the millions of supplements sold and safely used every year, dietary supplements have an enviable consumer safety record.

Since the 1994 enactment of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), FDA has had the authority to remove any dietary supplement from the market if FDA shows that it presents “a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury” or that it contains “a poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health.” In fact, the FDA can act immediately against any product that poses an “imminent hazard to public health or safety.” With the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, the FDA’s mandatory recall authority was affirmed and expanded.

Recently released data from risk-management expert Ron Law confirmed that food supplements are by far the safest substances that people are exposed to daily (http://tinyurl.com/ron-law-data).

“2. Some supplements are really prescription drugs.”
Supplements are a class of food, not drugs, so drugs masquerading as supplements is a drug adulteration problem best handled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), something which I and Citizens for Health have been calling for since early 2010 (http://tinyurl.com/dea-should-take-over), which is now being supported by industry as well (http://tinyurl.com/dea-and-steroids).

“3. You can overdose on vitamins and minerals.”
With only a few exceptions (e.g., iron, selenium, zinc, vitamin A), even with the dosages found in high-potency supplements there is a window of safety on supplements of several hundred percent; in fact, most supplements are so safe that no upper limit can even be determined. What we really have to worry about are the over 13,000 truly dangerous prescription drugs on the market with known side effects.

“4. You can’t depend on warning labels.”
True, but since dietary supplements are inherently benign with a margin of safety a mile wide, there is virtually nothing to warn consumers about. To be conservative, many products carry cautions relating to consumption by children and pregnant/breastfeeding women, but this is more to protect companies from actions stemming from gross misuse.

“5. None are proven to cure major diseases.”
The same can be said for prescription drugs. And even if they did, supplement manufacturers would not be allowed to tell consumers about it. Regardless, supplements are complements to the diet not substitutes for healthy food and physical activity.

“6. Buy with caution from botanicas.”
I would venture to say that apart from cities bordering Mexico, over 99.999% of herbal products are sold through mainstream channels of trade. We could also say “don’t buy prescription pain killers” on the black market or from peddlers in back alleys, but some level of common sense usually prevails.

“7. Heart and cancer protection: not proven.”
The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in marine-based omega-3s, and the U.S. government has approved health claims for vitamin D and calcium supplementation. In 2005, Harvard researchers estimated that low intake of omega-3s in the U.S. diet accounted for 72,000 to 96,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease. There have been numerous animal studies showing direct cancer prevention with omega-3s and epidemiological studies associating high levels of dietary omega-3s with reduced rates of cancer.

“8. Choking.”
Now Consumer Reports is really reaching. Anybody who tries to dry-swallow any pill can experience a gag reflex, which is not a problem unique to any one class of products.

“9. Some natural products are anything but.”

Most dietary ingredients are analogues of natural extracts; technologists are not standing around with wooden mallets, mortars and pestles. There are only one or two cases where a true synthetic is not as efficacious as a natural source nutrient, and that is with vitamin E.

“10. You may not need supplements at all.”
But we need drugs? For decades the USDA has shown that most of us do not get anywhere near a basic level of vitamins and minerals from the standard American diet, so it would be a rare person indeed who would not stand to benefit from a multivitamin/multimineral supplement at the very least.

Although Consumers Union has a long, and illustrious, track record in advocating for consumers, Consumer Reports appears to have a bug in its bonnet regarding dietary supplements, either that or single-copy newsstand sales soar when “supplements are bad” stories are run.

This is unfortunate, since scare-mongering re safe, well-regulated and effective dietary supplements will, at best, only serve to unfairly cause consumers to wrongly distrust a beneficial class of products and, at worst, drive even more Americans away from responsible self-care into the welcoming arms of drug-happy conventional medicine.

That’s not what I call consumer advocacy.

“Health at Gunpoint: The FDA’s Silent War Against Health Freedom”

What forces and interests direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and why is this out-of-control law enforcement agency working so hard to take dietary supplements out of our hands?

These are the central questions explored by Citizens for Health’s very own VP and Senior Policy Advisor, James Gormley, in Health at Gunpoint: The FDA’s Silent War Against Health Freedom, what we at CFH hope you will consider to be a groundbreaking book that brings into clear focus the silent war now being waged by the FDA against all of us:  American consumers.

Please view this new video about the book:

The FDA was established in 1906 to protect the U.S. public from misbranded and adulterated foods, drinks and drugs. While the original intent may have been honorable, over the years the execution of this mission has become tainted by lobbyists and money.

In Health at Gunpoint, James Gormley presents a history of both the natural foods movement and of this over-reaching Federal agency and examines how the agency has changed over the years. He then looks at the FDA’s most controversial decisions and the troubling reasons behind them.

Why did the FDA try to shut down the supplements industry by getting most supplements classified as drugs? Why did the FDA drag its feet on folic acid fortification while thousands of babies were born with devastating birth defects? Why did the FDA try to get life stages (such as pregancy and aging) and normal discomforts (such as headaches) classified as diseases? Why are irradiated and genetically-altered foods not labeled as such? Why does the FDA favor synthetic additives and dangerous drugs over natural ingredients and dietary supplements? Why did the FDA propose a guidance that would cripple the health food industry as we know it today?

Today, as in the past, the FDA is poised to make decisions that would have a major impact on the health of all Americans. Health at Gunpoint not only sheds light on what is happening, but also explains what you can do about it.

In many European countries, nutritional supplements are now available by prescription only. If you don’t think harmonization-friendly, anti-consumer, restrictions can be put in place here, you may be in for a rude awakening.

Health at Gunpoint will help prepare you for the coming fight!

In A Victory For Consumers, FDA Turns Thumbs Down On “Corn Sugar” Alias For HFCS

Thanks to Linda Bonvie, blogger for the Citizens for Health project Food Identity Theft, for the following post.

For the past several months, we here at Food Identity Theft have urged our readers to submit their comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the Corn Refiners Association’s petition to allow the name “high fructose corn syrup” to be officially changed to “corn sugar.”

The last word on this hot-button issue has just come down from the FDA itself.  And it’s “no.”

The CRA will now have to quit referring to high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, as “corn sugar,” which it has been doing these days at every opportunity, apparently on the assumption that its 2010 petition would ultimately be granted despite the overwhelming opposition of consumers.

But the FDA had other ideas – the main one being that sugar is defined as “a solid, dried, and crystallized food; whereas syrup is an aqueous solution or liquid food.” (Duh!!!) Or so the agency informed CRA President Audrae Erickson in a letter dated May 30 (Wednesday) and signed by Michael M., Landa, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, which also states that “…your petition does not provide sufficient grounds for the agency to authorize ‘corn sugar’ as an alternate common or usual name for HFCS.”

While the Corn Refiners Association had ignored a letter last year from the FDA that asked them to stop using “corn sugar” as a synonym for HFCS, which Erickson did a total of 10 times in two TV interviews last week, the official denial of the name change should now make such substitution verboten in the CRA’s commercials and communications. (In fact, one can’t help but wonder whether her blatant and repeated flouting of the FDA’s directive finally spurred the agency to act on this long-standing petition).

The FDA’s rejection of the proposed name change also quite clearly reaffirms “corn sugar” as a “standard of identity” for dextrose (an ingredient with NO fructose) and declines the CRA’s request that “corn sugar” be eliminated as an alternate name for dextrose.

“We are not persuaded by the arguments in the petition that consumers do not associate ‘corn sugar’ with dextrose,” notes the letter. “The term ‘corn sugar’ has been used to describe dextrose for over 30 years.”  It further points out that “’corn sugar’ has been known to be an allowed ingredient for individuals with hereditary fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption, who have been advised to avoid ingredients that contain fructose. Because such individuals have associated ‘corn sugar’ to be an acceptable ingredient to their health when ‘high fructose corn syrup’ is not, changing the name for HFCS to ‘corn sugar’ could put these individuals at risk and pose a public health concern.”

The latter concern has been raised in a number of the comments submitted to the FDA by members of the public, which ran against the petition 100 to 1. Most, however, expressed indignation over the idea that an industry group would try to attach a new, innocuous-sounding identity to an increasingly unpopular ingredient that so many consumers have been going out of their way to avoid in an attempt to make it appear to be something it’s not.

So confident were the corn refiners in the pending approval of their petition, that in a press release issued last week they said, “Transitional co-labeling, such as ‘Corn Sugar (High Fructose Corn Syrup),’ and CRA’s education campaign will ensure consumers are well informed about the name change.”

While the FDA may well have denied the petition of its own volition, one can’t help but credit the growing public outcry over this deliberate attempt to confuse consumers (which, perversely, has been presented as an attempt to eliminate consumer “confusion”) with having set the stage for this major victory over attempted food identity theft.

To read the entire FDA response to the CRA’s petition, click here.

Record-Breaking One Million Americans Tell FDA: We Have a Right to Know What’s in Our Food

New National Survey Shows Majority of Americans United

on Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food

Media contact:
Sue McGovern
sue@mcgov.com
Direct: 781-648-7157
Cell: 781-315-3400
 

Washington, D.C. (March 27, 2012) – The Just Label It (JLI) Campaign announced today that a record-breaking one million Americans of all political persuasions have called on the FDA to label genetically engineered (GE) foods. The campaign also announced a new national survey revealing that Americans across the political spectrum stand united in support of labeling food that has been genetically engineered. This is a striking contrast to the partisan divisions plaguing our political system.

“Pink slime, deadly melons, tainted turkeys, and BPA in our soup have put us all on notice that what we eat and feed our families is critically important,” said Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, a JLI partner. “Americans overwhelmingly demand safety, transparency and labeling of genetically engineered foods. It’s time for the FDA to come clean and restore public confidence in our food system.”

Since October, JLI, (www.justlabelit.org), the national campaign to require GE-food labeling and its more than 500 partner organizations have spearheaded an historic number of public comments for a GE-foods labeling petition (Docket #FDA 2011-P-0723-001/CP). March 27 is the date when the FDA is required to respond to the petition.  It took less than 180 days to accumulate the record number of comments.

“In recent years, Americans have shown a real interest in knowing more about our food and now there is a clear mandate for the labeling of genetically engineered foods. This petition asks the FDA to stand up for the rights of average Americans, and not just a handful of powerful chemical companies. It’s time for the FDA to give Americans the same rights held by citizens in forty nations, including all of our major trade partners, to know whether our foods have been genetically modified.  The FDA needs to restore confidence in our food and our right to know about the food we eat and feed our families,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield, a JLI partner.

 

New Survey Results: Motherhood, Apple Pie and GE Food Labeling

Consumer support for GE-foods labeling in the U.S. is nearly unanimous, according to the political opinion survey on GE food labeling conducted by The Mellman Group on behalf of JLI. Explained pollster Mark Mellman, “Few topics other than motherhood and apple pie can muster over 90 percent support, but labeling GE-foods is one of those few views held almost unanimously.”  “The survey found nearly all Democrats (93% favor, 2% oppose), Independents (90% favor, 5% oppose) and Republicans (89% favor, 5% oppose) in favor of labeling. The study also revealed that support for labeling is robust and arguments against it have little sway. (For the survey findings, visit www.justlabelit.org)

Colorado mother and author Robyn O’Brien, who founded the AllergyKids Foundation, a JLI partner, after one of her children had an allergic reaction to breakfast, said:  “Americans are responding to the call for GE foods labeling because they want more information for their families. Like allergen labeling, GE-food labels would provide essential and possibly life-saving information for anyone with a food allergy. Being responsible for the health and safety of my children, I believe it’s my right to know about the food I feed my family…from allergens, to ‘pink slime’ to GE foods.”

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About Just Label It

JUST LABEL IT (JLI) is a national coalition of 500 diverse organizations dedicated to the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, also referred to as genetically modified, or GMOs.  The Just Label It message is simple: consumers have a right to know about our food so we can make informed choices about what we eat and feed our families. For updated information, visit the Just Label It website, (www.justlabelit.org)

What is a GMO?

“Genetically engineered foods,” “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs, are organisms that have been created through application of transgenic, gene-splicing techniques that are part of biotechnology. This relatively new science allows DNA (genetic material) from one species to be transferred into another species, creating transgenic organisms with combinations of genes from plants, animals, bacteria, and even viral gene pools. The mixing of genes from different species that have never shared genes in the past is what makes GMOs and GE crops so unique. It is impossible to create such transgenic organisms through traditional crossbreeding methods.

Citizens for Health Joins “Just Label It” Campaign

Washington, D.C.Citizens for Health is excited to announce we have joined an effort with hundreds of organizations representing millions of Americans called the “Just Label It: We Have A Right to Know” campaign. The core of the campaign is a petition to the FDA that calls for products that use ingredients produced with genetic engineering to disclose this information on the label.

If you agree, as we do, that you have a right to know if the food you are eating has been genetically engineered, join us in this effort. We must make sure the FDA hears loud and clear that Americans want access to truthful, non-misleading information about what we put into our bodies – we want GE foods labeled.

Sign the petition now!

Please share this opportunity for action with any people you know who share your interest in knowing what is in your food.

And take a moment to watch this important video: Just Label It: We Have a Right to Know