Dietary supplements — all those pills, powders, and liquid substances — have long existed in a kind of food safety twilight zone. Unlike drugs, supplements do not require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval before going on the market, nor are the high standards being applied to food and even animal feed under the Food Safety Modernization Act catching supplements. As I understand it, supplements are supposed to come with labels accurately reflecting their ingredients and be produced with good manufacturing practices. And, I’m told, that’s about it. Still, if one had to guess, about nine out 10 enforcement actions against supplement makers come not from FDA but from the Federal Trade Commission. The trade cops typically find these companies making bogus scientific claims and then force them to pay big fines or sometimes even agree to cease making some product. That often means that a big marketing company simply shuts down one line and starts up another under a new label. However, change may be in the works. Benjamin C. Mizer, who heads the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division as principal deputy assistant attorney general, said last week: “We will investigate and prosecute companies and individuals that sell supplements that threaten the health of the American public and drain their bank accounts with misrepresented products.” His comment came as a supplements industry executive was sent to federal prison and the company was forced to forfeit $1 million for adding fillers to their products and not indicating them on certificates of analysis given to customers. Why there hasn’t been more of these kinds of cases is a mystery. FDA has had its own police (the Office of Criminal Investigations) for more than 20 years, and its laboratories are second to none. Yet it seems that whenever we hear about secret ingredients being in a supplement, it comes as part of the findings about some independent researcher or a foreign investigation. Another one of these independent reports has burst on the scene, causing an enormous uproar in the world of alternative nutrition. It is a 110-page report of an investigation into “fermented cod liver oil” produced under the Green Pasture label and has turned into a churning controversy for the 16-year-old Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). The group is usually associated with pushing retail sales of raw milk. But beyond its followers, most don’t know that WAPF also promotes “fermented cod liver oil” produced under the Green Pastures label as a “superfood.” Fermented cod liver oil is sold as a “superfood,” or even as the “Rolls-Royce” of cod liver oils, which are a source of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. However, this report says that Green Pasture’s (GP) “fermented cod liver oil,” or FCLO, is rancid, putrid, low in fat-soluble vitamins, and is not even made from cod. Who says so? Kaayla T. Daniel, Ph.D., who serves on the WAPF board of directors, where she is both vice president and a past recipient of the organization’s Integrity in Science award. Daniel is certified as a clinical nutritionist by the International and American Association of Clinical Nutritionists. Daniel brought her concerns about GP’s FCLO to WAPF’s board last fall and “was strongly told to be quiet.” Instead, she decided to further investigate the product and have it tested at independent laboratories. DNA testing found that it was 100-percent Alaskan pollock, not cod. She says that, in addition to its “many safety issues,” GP’s FCLO is an adulterated product that is falsely labeled. Daniel also believes GP’s FCLO may be connected with deaths involving pulmonary embolism, but she admits that may be hard to prove. For reaction from the cod liver oil audience, we turned to The Complete Patient, the blog written by author and journalist David Gumpert. Best known as a raw milk advocate, Gumpert has put his advocacy aside for journalism in tracking how the report has turned into a major controversy for WAPF. He’s reported how GP FCLO was swiftly removed from some supplement sites, yet it continues to have WAPF’s front-and-center endorsement. Gumpert wrote, “… the company’s many supporters in the world of nutrient-dense food have been pleading for people to suspend judgment.” That’s because anyone looking for a point/counterpoint rebuttal by GP and/or WAPF to Daniel’s report is going to be disappointed. Instead, the cod liver oil marketing operation has circled the wagons and announced that they are taking no prisoners in repelling any and all criticism of their product. Gumpert says that anyone expecting “open discussion and healing” or “commitment to research” from WAPF can forget about it. WAPF’s upcoming national conference is actually disinviting speakers who have questioned its stance on cod liver oil since the Daniel study came out, nor will it allow any forum for those sickened by the product. Daniel’s report, however, is not going away and it’s drawing out more people with troubling stories. “Since the publication of my special report, ‘Hook, Line and Stinker,’ on August 23, many people have shared stories of atrial fibrillation, abnormal rhythms and related heart problems that appeared subsequent to FCLO consumption and that have disappeared with the removal of FCLO from their diets,” she says. It seems to me that it’s time to test the system. Daniel needs to get her report to Mizer at DOJ and spread it around FDA. This one surely needs to be investigated, and there would be no better place for OCI or FBI agents to begin that than at 4200 Wisconsin Ave. in Washington, D.C., where the WAPF is located.
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