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Hitting bottom.

More regulation is not only a possibility, but most certainly a reality for the future of dietary supplements and functional foods. Let's start with dietary supplements. Authorities, from Congress to FDA to FTC and down the line, in my opinion, have been left with no choice but to step in and impose further restrictions on the dietary supplement marketplace. Words used to describe this industry today make descriptors like the "Wild West" of a few years ago seem like a compliment--we are insidious and despicable to those that want to take us down, and that's putting it nicely. Right now our prospects from a regulatory perspective don't look good, especially now that the Democrats have seized control of Congress. As I have said many, many times before, we can point fingers at FDA, rogue companies, lax trade associations, negative media and a skeptical, out-to-get-us medical community, but don't forget to turn that finger around and point it at ourselves. Let's be honest, there are some shady things going on in this industry. And most of us have known this for quite some time. The sad thing is we have done very little to stop the snowball from getting bigger. And here we are about to get run over by the very snowball of controversy we helped create.

Let's go back to what I said about our regulatory prospects not looking good. While this may prove to be the case, a painful 2007 may be just what the doctor ordered (... I am hoping the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" cliche plays out here). If you look at it this way, increased regulation will give companies more incentive to expand their R & D budgets and conduct clinical trials that go beyond the preliminary studies we are currently carrying out. More regulation, and hopefully enforcement, might also give companies the guts to call out others behaving less than ethically--perhaps they don't do that now because they feel there is no incentive to do the right thing (... and why bother doing the right thing when they see what their competitors are getting away with).

Once upon a time most people understood why dietary supplement companies couldn't afford to carry out expensive research--because there were no incentives, financial or otherwise, to do so. Sadly, now companies can't even find an incentive to do the right thing, even if that means calling out competitors selling vastly inferior products or misleading consumers with ridiculous claims. Reviewing the state of the industry today makes me wonder if we have finally reached our "bottom"--like those who finally hit their "bottom" and enter programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. Is there such a program for this industry?

Let's talk about functional foods. FDA plans to hold a hearing in early December so interested parties can provide comments on approaches to the regulation of conventional foods being marketed as "functional foods"--which a lot of the time are represented as dietary supplements in food form. By the time you read this, however, the meeting will have already taken place. (In-depth coverage of this meeting will be featured in our January/February issue.) At the crux of the debate is the blurry line that has always existed between conventional foods and dietary supplements. It seems FDA and others may want to shrink the dietary supplement territory by officially providing a regulatory definition for functional foods--a major development that could have an enormous impact on the $3.5 billion energy drinks market, for example. Concerns swirling around caffeine-based energy drinks (minus coffee and tea) and supplements will only bring more attention to this matter.

So enjoy the holidays and rest up because the nutraceuticals industry is in for a bruising (or more likely a beating) in 2007. But don't take my word for it. See what the experts have to say in our State of the Industry Review, which starts on page 50.
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Title Annotation:From The Editor
Author:Wright, Rebecca
Publication:Nutraceuticals World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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