With the recently-introduced legislation known as Senate Bill 3767, or the Food Safety Accountability Act, by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), many in the natural health and nutrition industry who develop and produce vitamins and supplements and natural health food products—as well as consumers of vitamins and health supplements—are worried. Worried about stiffer penalties for supplement makers. Worried about future accessibility to the supplements they purchase.
Swanson Health Products has been in active communication with political leaders about all current legislation that may affect our business and our customers. In our opinion, this latest bill is something to watch closely yet not necessarily something to panic over. Remember the season we are in. No, not flu season… Election season. Think about the recent egg recall and all the media attention that received. While we believe that while the wording of this bill could pose a threat to future supplement development and production, the chances of it passing in its current state are relatively slim.
So what does Senate Bill 3767 really say? It is an addendum to existing US Code pertaining to fraud and it aims to increase the power of the FDA, as well as the criminal penalties (which are already in place) for any person who knowingly introduces any food product (supplements are considered food) that is adulterated or misbranded. This sounds reasonable, but the problem lies in the broad definitions of the words “misbranded” and “adulterated,” which leave the door wide open for interpretation and heavy-handed enforcement.
Though penalties are already in place for such violations, they are not harsh enough in the opinion of Senator Leahy and others in Congress. Again, we point to the recent massive recall of eggs coming from a company who has had repeated violations. The penalties levied against that company were apparently not strong enough to bring about lasting change in their practices, so this latest legislation is rooted in a noble intent to increase the safety of the food supply. What’s unfortunate is the fact that supplement manufacturers will also bear the brunt of the harsher penalties.
And that’s what it all really boils down to: harsher penalties. There are already penalties in place for violations of misbranding or knowingly selling adulterated products. Senate Bill 3767 would just increase the penalties (up to ten years in prison). Our view is that it is unlikely that the Senate will pass this bill, given the tight Senate schedule and the fact that they have not yet even debated the Food Safety Act. In many ways, the bill could be considered political grandstanding ahead of election season and following the recent egg recall.
With all that said, we always encourage consumers to take an active role themselves when it comes to protecting their freedom of choice regarding the foods, health products and services they purchase. Your voice is the strongest there is. Consider the rise in organic foods in recent years, both in production and selection: Americans are buying organic more often and in greater numbers, and the market is responding.
You can read the full (very brief) text of the bill here: www.govtrack.us, or read Sen. Leahy's press release announcing the bill's introduction. What do you think? Are you concerned about this bill?
By Ben H.
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