On April 3, 2013, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (“CRN”) proposed voluntary guidelines for the labeling of dietary supplements containing caffeine, recommending that companies include a disclaimer discouraging children, and others from consuming more highly-caffeinated products. The guidelines also advise supplement makers to disclose the caffeine content in their products, from both added caffeine and naturally-occurring sources, such as green tea extract, guarana, and cocoa extract.

CRN’s member companies produce a large portion of the dietary supplements that are marketed in the United States, and globally, through natural food stores and direct selling companies. In releasing these recommended guidelines, CRN explains that it is expanding its self-regulatory initiative that encourages best practices within the supplement industry and promotes the safe use of dietary supplements by consumers.

The guidelines focus on five core areas: (i) disclosure of total caffeine content from both added and naturally occurring sources of caffeine; (ii) label advisories for conditions of use; (iii) serving size and daily intake recommendations; (iv) restraints against marketing in combination with alcohol; and (v) implementation for product labels. The guidelines call on manufacturers to disclose, on the product label, the total amount of caffeine, from both natural sources and added caffeine. In addition to the recommendation for label disclosure of total caffeine content, the guidelines recommend that products with a total caffeine content of more than 100 mg per serving include label advisories for children, those sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women, and those with a medical condition or taking medication. The guidelines also discourage companies from marketing or promoting the use of caffeine-containing dietary supplements in combination with alcohol, or to counter the acute or immediate effects of alcohol.

Supplements containing caffeine, such as energy drinks, recently have come under scrutiny for the risks they may pose to children and teenagers. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., pushed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) to impose tougher regulations on these products. The FDA is currently reviewing the safety of these products. In a letter sent to Durbin and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in November 2012, the FDA said “it may be advisable for certain subpopulations, including children and pregnant women, to limit their caffeine consumption.”

When asked about the new guidelines, Steve Mister, CRN’s President & CEO commented: “These recommendations go beyond what is required by law, but our member companies, along with the conventional beverage industry, recognize that consumers would benefit by having information that lets them know how much caffeine is in the products they choose to take.” According to Mister: “This is one example of how responsible companies in our industry are taking proactive steps to educate consumers so they can make informed decisions about caffeine-containing supplements, and we trust consumers will be mindful of the amounts of caffeine they are getting from all sources.”

However, Senator Durbin is not convinced that the guidelines go far enough. Durbin commented that although the guidelines “made sense,” they “still will not protect our children,” and he “feel[s] that energy drink companies need to go further and stop marketing their products to children.”

CRN recommends that companies implement the voluntary guidelines over the next year.