Statement of Timothy
of FDA Task Force Report on Consumer Health Information Initiative
July 10, 2003
expressed are those of FTC Chairman Muris and do not necessarily
reflect those of the Federal Trade Commission.
I am pleased to join Dr. McClellan
for these important announcements.
Health care costs in the United States are
skyrocketing. Scientific research increasingly shows that
better diets and better nutrition can improve Americans’
health. Indeed, every day there are major advancements in
our understanding of how diet impacts health. For example,
we are learning more about the role that different types of
fat play in the risk of developing heart disease. Yet for
too long we have followed policies that – with the best
of intentions – have restricted the availability of
this information to consumers. Sometimes even dietary advice
given by the American Heart Association and other respected
organizations has been prohibited in food labeling. The goal
of the Consumer Health Information for Better Nutrition Initiative
is to make sure that consumers get more of this information
more quickly so they can make healthier food choices.
The Federal Trade Commission staff has actively
participated in the work of the Task Force. The report and
guidance documents issued today begin a more workable system
to increase truthful claims about the role particular foods
can play in more healthy diets.
The consumer research agenda is an important
part of the Task Force proposal. Consumers cannot make informed
decisions about their dietary choices unless they understand
the information being presented to them. We need a clear grasp
of how best to communicate emerging diet and health information
without misleading consumers.
Greater access to health information, however,
is meaningless, unless the information is accurate. Last December,
we committed to crack down on fraudulent health claims for
dietary supplements and other products. Since then, the two
agencies have made good on that promise. In this time, the
FTC has filed or resolved 17 enforcement actions against false
or misleading advertising of dietary supplements and other
devices and therapies. These were not small sellers; the estimated
sales for these products were over $1 billion.
Among these enforcement action efforts are
two cases that involved simultaneous FTC federal court action
and FDA product seizure. One targeted Seasilver USA for Internet
marketing of a supplement that was promoted to treat or cure
cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and 650 other diseases; the other
was against heavily aired infomercials touting Coral Calcium
Supreme to treat or cure cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart
disease, and other serious conditions. Even when we acted
independently, FDA staff provided invaluable technical and
scientific support to us. One example was our recent action
against Glenn Braswell and his company Gero Vita, for a massive
marketing campaign selling a myriad of supplements for everything
from Alzheimer’s to weight loss.
Together, the FTC and the FDA have recently
also issued a combined total of more than 200 warning letters,
cyber letters, and e-mail advisories. The warnings have targeted
promotionspreying on consumer fears about biological, chemical,
and nuclear terrorism threats, and the SARS epidemic. The
agencies are closely monitoring compliance with these warnings.
The FTC will continue to work with the FDA
to police the marketplace for deceptive claims. We know that
the success of the Consumer Health Information for Better
Nutrition Initiative depends on it.