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New York Times Shuts Down US Senators Harkin and Hatch on Supplement Harm Issue PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

New York Times Shuts Down US Senators Harkin and Hatch on Supplement Harm Issue

Summary: The Integrator closely followed efforts of Integrator advisor Michael Levin - a past executive in for both dietary supplement and Big Pharma companies - to hold the New York Times accountable for its gross overstatements regarding the deaths and harm associated with appropriate use of dietary supplements. It turns out Levin was in good company when his protests fell on deaf ears. US Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and US Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) were also turned down by the Times. Their rejected letter is printed here ...

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Image The Integrator closely followed efforts of Integrator advisor Michael Levin - a past executive in for both dietary supplement and Big Pharma companies - to hold the New York Times accountable for its gross overstatements regarding the deaths and harm associated with appropriate use of supplements. (See Levin's letter here and a later NYT non-correction here.) Levin was propelled into action by a lengthy extract in the Times of a book by Times staff writer Michael Hurley which sensationalized harm from supplements. The
American Botanical Council (ABC) also weighed in on the issue.

As it turns out, Levin and ABC were not the only entities to which the New York Times turned a deaf ear - or if not deaf, little more than a blah "huh?" The US Senate's two leading proponents of the value of dietary supplements, Orrin Hatch (R-UT)  and Tom Harkin (D-IA) also protested. They submitted a long response to the Times which was also rejected. Thanks to Levin, I was able to turn to the blog site of Jon Benninger (http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/blogs/jon/) where the letter was printed in full.
____________________________

Diet Supplements and Safety: The Real Story

- Senators Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkin
(as submitted to the New York Times, February 2007)

Image
US Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
"Despite the stubborn problem that nearly one of every four Americans – including kids – aren’t getting proper nutrition through diet alone, another book comes out suggesting that multivitamins and other dietary supplements not only don’t work, they might even be harmful to our health.

"Come again? We’re not talking about trans-fats, nicotine, or alcohol, we’re talking about vitamins. But before we flush our multis, folic acid or Flintstones down the toilet, let’s first review the facts and safety record of these products and their positive role in health.

"First, the vast majority of dietary supplements are safe. More than 187 million Americans take supplements. And supplements are just that, an addition, and should never be used as a substitute for a good diet. But let’s face it, most of us don’t eat enough broccoli. Many of us – ourselves included - take a multivitamin each day, often at the direction of a doctor.

Image
US Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA)
“'Hold on,' says the author in a recent New York Times opinion piece designed to boost book sales. 'Supplements are risky,' he claims, citing data that 'poison control centers found more than 1.6 million adverse reactions to dietary supplements over a 23-year period.' Sounds scary, doesn’t it?


"It would be if it were true, but it isn’t. As the New York Times correction on Feb. 6 shows, what the author calls 'adverse reactions' are often what the poison control centers would categorize as 'exposures,' a distinction with an enormous difference. An 'exposure' can be a nervous mother who calls poison control because junior accidentally ate too many cartoon-shaped gummy vitamins. Or someone who (against label recommendations) takes a supplement on an empty stomach and feels queasy. It’s important that people contact poison control centers if they have a concern, but that does not mean that every call is an 'adverse reactions' as defined by the centers themselves.


   
"When one looks at
the true adverse
reactions of dietary
supplements, the
picture is completely
different.

"Supplements may
only be responsible
for relatively small
number of adverse
reactions."


- US Senators
Hatch & Harkin

"When one looks at the true adverse reactions of dietary supplements, the picture is completely different. Supplements may only be responsible for relatively small number of adverse reactions. Household pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, by comparison, prompt thousands more trips to the hospital and calls to the poison center.

"Ending the frequent and often erroneous speculation about adverse events potentially related to dietary supplements is one reason we worked with our Senate colleagues to write and pass a new law, the Dietary Supplement and Nonprescription Drug Consumer Protection Act. This law requires manufacturers of dietary supplements and over-the-counter drugs to report all serious adverse events to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Our bill will help ensure that the FDA receives good and timely information about any safety concerns associated with these products, so those concerns can be investigated, and appropriate action can be taken.

"Dietary supplements are not only safe but they also provide real health, wellness and quality of life benefits for millions of Americans. Research has shown that calcium can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils can help cut the risk of heart problems like arrhythmia, and Vitamin D may help with the prevention of certain cancers. These are just some examples.

"One reason dietary supplements are safe is because they are regulated by the [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)]. This might come as a surprise to those who have seen the recent inaccurate media coverage on supplement industry regulation, but it is a cold, hard fact and something which can be easily checked. Here is verbatim congressional testimony from the FDA itself, via the Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA, Robert E. Brackett:



"One reason dietary
supplements are safe
is because they are
regulated by the FDA.

"This might come as
a surprise to those
who have seen the
recent inaccurate
media coverage ..."


- US Senators
Hatch & Harkin

 
'FDA regulates the safety, manufacturing, and labeling of dietary supplements, while the Federal Trade Commission has primary responsibility for regulating the advertising of these products.' (March 2006).
"The FDA can, and should, pull any supplement off the shelf it determines is unsafe. It has in some cases, and it should do more. Not only can the FDA pull a product that has already gone to market, the FDA can block, and has blocked, the movement to market of supplements it determines might be unsafe for the general public. The FDA may also enter into consent decree agreements to stop the sale of products. So the FDA regulates dietary supplements.

"So does the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Just this month, the FTC filed complaints in four separate cases alleging that weight-loss and weight-control claims were not supported. Marketers of the four products settled with the FTC, surrendered cash and other assets worth at least $25 million, and agreed to limit future advertising claims. You would be hard pressed to get these firms to agree that you can get away with making unsubstantiated claims.

"An unregulated industry? Hardly. And these are just some of the ways in which the federal government regulates the dietary supplement industry. States have additional regulation, and the industry itself has self-policing mechanisms in place to ensure the safety, purity and efficacy of its products.

"The real risk would be to scare the American people into thinking that vitamins and other safe, natural products, when used properly and with the consultation of a physician, are somehow detrimental to their health. On the contrary, these products have and should play an important role in improving America’s health, nutrition and wellness."

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