Federal government agencies don't always play well together in the sandbox. To use another clichéd metaphor, battles are more the norm than the exception when it comes to enforcement turf. So whenever enforcement agencies signal to an industry that they are coordinating their efforts, that industry needs to pay attention.
The FDA and the FTC sent just such a signal to the dietary supplement industry last week. In a blog post on FDA Voice, senior officials of the FDA and FTC invited the public to submit to them any complaints or concerns about dietary supplements. You can find the post here.
The blog post is notable for two things. First, it makes clear that the FDA and FTC are trying to work together to address issues that may exist in the dietary supplement industry. That's unremarkable, you might say. Not really. The FDA and FTC have different authorities with respect to dietary supplements – which the blog post points out. They don't necessarily have to work together – and, historically, they haven't. At least from my vantage point in dealing with both agencies as a Department of Justice official, the agencies have been less than ideal partners over time. That they are making efforts at coordination is something of a change, and follows on the kind of coordination that we saw as part of a nationwide enforcement sweep, announced in 2015, targeting the dietary supplement industry. For those who need reminding, here is a link to the Department of Justice press release describing the sweep.
The second notable thing about the blog post is what is says about enforcement priorities. While the FDA and FTC invite any and all complaints or concerns about dietary supplements, they appear to focus on two particular areas of interest. They are:
- Any dietary supplement that may have caused actual consumer harm (e.g., an adverse reaction or illness) and
- Any dietary supplement that is marketed as being able to cure a disease, and especially those that are marketed as being able to cure serious conditions such as cancer or Alzheimer's.
Packed into this little FDA blog post, then, is a potentially mighty punch (ending as we began, with a cliché). The dietary supplement industry should expect continued attention from government enforcement agencies, and we will likely see additional actions from them.