(Bill Sardi) After the Presidential election anticipate what amounts to terrorist attacks upon the dietary supplement industry as regulatory agencies and the news media do the bidding for big business in a predictable industry takeover now that vitamin pills are yielding greater profitability and unit sales growth than the American economy as a whole and drug patent expirations force pharmaceutical companies to search for replacements for their blockbuster drugs.
Proctor & Gamble and Pfizer, two food and drug giants, announced acquisition of two dietary supplement companies, making it clear the vitamin pill business is up for grabs now that it is growing faster than the rest of the economy. One source predicts the supplement industry will grow at the clip of 9% per year during 2011-15. For comparison, the entire US economy is in the doldrums with less than a 2% annual growth rate. This growth is attracting pariahs and predictable pressure from regulatory agencies to rid the industry of competition.
The first part of the strategy has been underway for some time – attack the industry, make false claims products are unsafe, and head off public demand. As big business buys up these supplement companies so they don’t have to pay millions or even billions of dollars for them if sales are hindered by negative publicity. So negative news is generated, unfairly claiming dietary supplements are risky for consumers.
For example, a recent NBC Dateline report, where NBC reporters dug up a 4-year-old case involving a lone derelict company that made a faulty product, was depicted as what is characteristic in the industry. It’s all part of the mud that the news media has been lobbing at the supplement companies for years now.
How big business will swallow the vitamin pill business
It should not be a surprise that big business can get news agencies to do its bidding for them. For example, Proctor & Gamble spends $1 billion a year on advertising. Pfizer spends ~$19 billion a year on marketing and promotion. Ditto for Johnson & Johnson.
These companies have clout and can rub out competition in various ways, including paying off politicians to write legislation that will just make it too difficult for small competitors to survive in the supplement industry.
The New Dietary Ingredient regulations, which the FDA plans to impose, are an example. These regulations require new and existing brands of dietary supplements to undergo costly testing to prove they are safe, even if they have been safely used in the market place for years. Thousands of dietary supplements are likely to disappear from store shelves in the near future due to this requirement.
Another recent example is Rite-Aid drugs stores which hired wellness ambassadors and placed them in white coats to promote the sales of dietary supplements. Apparently drug companies caught wind of this successful strategy that was resulting in consumers purchasing more supplements and fewer drugs. So two US Senators wrote a strong letter to Rite-Aid alleging these wellness ambassadors were wearing white coats, making it appear they are pharmacists. It’s a bogus claim and a clear interference with free trade, but nonetheless any successful strategy to sell dietary supplements instead of drugs is a target for sanctions.
Some attacks against the industry are more direct. Some retail dietary supplement outlets are being raided without justifiable cause and their products confiscated.
As the US becomes less and less of a free market and more of a fascist nation as big business buys off government overseers, the supplement industry can anticipate more pressure from unseen directions.
Big Pharma exerting its will
As a FoxNews report says: “The world’s largest producers of new drugs and medicines are facing an unprecedented time in their history as a record number of patents expire and generic drugs swoop in as more affordable alternatives.” A so-called “patent cliff” has been reached where more and more drug patents are expiring, billions of dollars of blockbuster drugs.
Americans don’t realize the freedoms they have when it comes to dietary supplements. In Europe, dietary supplements are prescription drugs. Once the supplement industry is captured by big business, anticipate legislation that will force vitamin and herbal remedies to be acquired by prescription under the false guise doctors need to monitor use. Many overseas tourists visiting America purchase thousands of dollars of dietary supplements to bring home with them. Foreigners know what it is like for dietary supplements to be restricted.
Why the public continues to take dangerous prescription drugs cannot be easily explained. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more people die from such overdoses than from all illegal drugs combined. Furthermore, accidental prescription drug deaths in the United States each year now outnumber roadway fatalities.
Compare this with the fact there was not a single death associated with a dietary supplement in 2010.
Supplement industry sometimes lives up to its reputation
This is not to say the dietary supplement industry hasn’t gone off in the wrong direction from time to time. The industry has a penchant for selling what is popular, not what works.
Take Sea Silver, a supplement that was avidly purchased by naïve consumers who were desperately searching for natural remedies for a wide array of maladies – 650 of them in all that Sea Silver’s makers said its products cured. The Federal Trade Commission put that company out of business.
Another over-hyped supplement was Coral Calcium, which was no better than a plain calcium carbonate supplement yet it was advertised as a cure-all for many maladies and widely embraced and sold within the dietary supplement industry. Many a health food store posted sidewalk signs outside their establishments saying “Coral Calcium here.” It was an embarrassing moment for the retail supplement industry. For unknown reasons, consumers are susceptible to the most bogus of health claims attached to dietary supplements.
Sleight of hand against supplements
Oftentimes the supplement industry is unfairly accused of selling ineffective products. One of the common sleights of hand is to generate studies that are inherently slanted against supplements. For example, a recent review of the effectiveness of B vitamins and vitamin E showed that randomized clinical trials do not reveal a beneficial effect in reducing cardiovascular disease in humans. But the review also showed that these studies failed to consider confounding factors, that drugs like aspirin and statin drugs reduced or abolished any possibility of observed differences in the number of heart attacks between vitamin pill users and non-users.
Whether you believe supplements are good for you or not, a continued barrage of publicity leads people to believe that supplements are not controlled by the Food and Drug Administration and have the potential to do more harm than good.
The FDA does in fact control the manufacture, labeling, and distribution of supplements. Manufacturers of dietary supplements are subject to legal liability if their products are impure, improperly labeled, result in side effects when properly used or when false or unsubstantiated advertising claims are made. And why is it that the unregulated supplements have a better safety record than the FDA-approved drugs?
You can fool the people only some of the time
You can only fool some of the people some of the time. There is scientific evidence that substantiates the widespread use of supplements that cannot be easily refuted.
The most remarkable is vitamin D, a long overlooked sun-produced hormone/vitamin that is producing striking health benefits, including declines in the risk for cancer and diabetes, as well as a reduction in overall mortality. Vitamin D pills are a 10-cent cure for what ails most people, from the winter blues to osteoporosis and the common cold.
When noted New York Times health reporter Jane E Brody gives vitamin D her blessing (she’s penned a number of negative reports about vitamin supplements in the past), you have really convinced a skeptic.
It doesn’t look like anything can hide the plethora of positive scientific reports now being published about vitamin D. As the public adopts vitamin D pills into their daily health regimens anticipate a measurable improvement in health parameters, a decline in overall mortality that cannot be easily hidden and a revelation that modern medicine has for a long time now been gaming a certain rate of disease into the population by limiting intake of essential nutrients.
The tactics used by big business are not new. A similar consolidation effort was made in the retail gasoline market when California required small independent filling stations to dig out their old underground storage tanks and replace them with double-lined tanks. This was too costly for the independent stations and they folded. Gasoline prices then rose dramatically in California without the price competition. Consumers are surely to lose as the supplement industry is taken over by big business.