FTC Submits Statement to Congress on Deceptive Marketing of Dietary Supplements

Agency Describes Enforcement and Education Activities

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission submitted a statement today to the U.S. Senate describing the agency’s work to protect consumers from false or misleading claims about dietary supplements.  This work includes law enforcement actions, coordination with the Food and Drug Administration, and consumer education.

Submitted to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, the statement noted that the U.S. dietary supplement industry had $25 billion in sales last year, a 6 percent increase over the previous year.  “[M]arket analysts suggest that the downturn in the economy has actually led to increased spending on supplements as consumers attempt to manage their own healthcare and avoid expensive doctor visits and prescription medications.  Given this trend, it is more critical than ever that the Commission work to ensure that consumers are getting truthful and accurate information, backed by solid scientific evidence, about dietary supplements.”

The statement also described the FTC’s shared jurisdiction with the FDA over dietary supplements and other health and nutrition products – with the FTC having primary authority over food and dietary supplement advertising, and the FDA having primary responsibility for labeling of these products.

The FTC has brought more than 100 law enforcement actions over the past decade challenging claims about the effectiveness of a wide variety of supplements, including cold and flu products, weight-loss products, and supplements purported to treat serious diseases, including cancer and AIDS.  The FTC also collaborates with the FDA and foreign authorities to conduct law enforcement sweeps that tackle broad categories of health fraud – such as “Operation False Cures,” which targeted Internet marketers of fraudulent cancer-cure products, and a recent Internet sweep of marketers of phony H1N1 Flu products.  In addition, the FTC recently sent warning letters to companies claiming that Omega-3 fatty acid supplements enhance brain and vision function and development in school-aged children.

According to the statement, the FTC’s consumer education efforts have included the “Cure-ious? Ask” campaign, which alerts consumers to fraudulent cancer cures and encourages them to discuss all treatment options with their doctors.  The FTC has also issued consumer education materials warning about deceptive sales pitches for supposed H1N1 treatments, as well as brochures about the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements.

The FTC vote authorizing the statement was 5-0.  

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.  To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).  The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.  The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.

(FTC File No. P064502)
(supplement statement)

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