26 August 2011

Alan Caruba: Irresponsible and Dishonest

Alan Caruba, syndicated columnist and really old guy, had a column last week that was about how Obama was banning vitamins. Seriously.

Millions of Americans benefit from a daily regimen of vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements. Athletes use whey protein powders. Body builders take amino acids. Others augment food products that lack sufficient nutritional value. Their health and wellness is now threatened by the Obama administration’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

On the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend, the FDA published a 47-page document that would ban all nutritional and supplemental ingredients by requiring them to file documentation involving multi-million-dollar testing and the regulations would be retroactive to 1994!

This will destroy the manufacturers of these products because most are small companies that could not afford such costs. It’s not like there is a vast body of information that demonstrates any threat to health from vitamins and minerals. Quite the contrary. There is ample information on their benefits. There are libraries filled with books devoted to this.

Who would benefit from such regulation of the natural supplement industry? Big Pharma. The same pharmaceutical companies that have a long record of putting forth FDA-approved medications that later prove to be lethal are looking to use the regulatory powers of FDA to literally increase levels of illness.

Needless to say, I was highly skeptical. Caruba generally is wrong at least 50% of the time in his columns whenever he makes a declaration of fact, but there didn't seem any way that this could be even half right. The original version of the column declared that the new FDA regulation was called the "Codex Alimentarius," which I happen to know is actually the name of international FAO/WHO food guidelines, so right from the start I knew there was a serious problem with Caruba's ideas in this one. I started off a comment pointing out the Codex Alimentarius mistake to him, and requesting a link to the report or at least its name.

He edited the column to remove the Codex Alimentarius mistake (without admitting his mistake or putting a notice of alteration, of course) but ignored my other request. So I went looking. The FDA newsroom didn't have anything from the stated period in early July. In fact, none of the releases seemed to announce any new guidelines that had anything to do with what Caruba described. What the hell was he referring to?

Caruba was alleging that the Obama administration was going to ban "vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements on which millions depend for wellness" in order to "literally increase levels of illness." That is a huge and outrageous claim, and it would be completely irresponsible if he didn't have something specific in mind. He's even urging citizens to "[w]rite, email, and fax your Representative and Senator to ensure that Congress intervenes with the FDA in the same fashion it is struggling to protect us against an out-of-control Environmental Protection Agency. In particular, contact the members of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee."

Was he really so irresponsible as to not have any evidence at all?

As it turns out, yes. Alan Caruba really is that irresponsible.

After some searching, I did eventually find an FDA document from July. It's a non-binding draft resolution published asking for commentary, establishing the guidelines for proving the safety of new dietary supplements introduced since 1994, as required by Congress in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). It doesn't ban vitamins or minerals. It doesn't actually do anything, since it's a non-binding draft, but if it did go into effect it would just be establishing new documentation formats for requirements mandated by a Republican Congress in 1994 - the way that supplement makers who introduced a new ingredient (i.e. acacia berries) must submit health and study information to the FDA, to show that their new product was safe.

In other words, everything that Alan Caruba said was wrong and irresponsible (I'd say "shockingly irresponsible," but it's hard to be shocked by him these days). He is accusing the government of trying to ban vitamins to make American citizens sick for the benefit of the pharmaceutical industry, and he has no basis at all for it.

I tried to point this out to Caruba in another comment, but he has comment moderation on, and simply censored it and ignored me.

Alan Caruba: irresponsible and dishonest.

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