The popular philosophy of laissez-faire from the 1750’s still permeates much of the American economy today, and it is no secret that moneyed interests would like to see it as the undisputable reality. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory agency charged with ensuring the safety of our foods, has failed to achieve that goal completely because of dietary supplements.
Supplements are non-food edible products intended to provide some specific nutritional value. Whether this nutrition is needed and safe, however, is the area of dispute. Besides third party paid services such as LabDoor, the absence of a truly neutral quality assurance agency is troubling: does the protein powder or herbal stress reliever we pay for in fact contain accurate amounts of the ingredients it claims to? And are these pure? When we stress about “toxic chemicals” entering and accumulating in our bodies, the last place many think to look in is their vitamin pill bottle.
When determining if a chemical compound is toxic, it’s all about dosage. Small enough amounts of copper and iron are needed for normal body function, but too little or too much has observable consequences. Compounds like pesticides have known side effects when ingested in large enough quantities, typically in a short span of time. When the subject consumes negligible quantities over the span of decades, it cannot be said with certainty that it was prolonged pesticide exposure from food that eventually clogged Joe’s heart or triggered a seizure amid the multiple other conditions we develop because of the vast complexity of human physiology and its interaction with the environment. A marketed supplement can have an uncontrolled amount of a contaminant, or even an excess of desired ingredient, which then produces adverse health effects. In that scenario, the FDA can investigate the product and remediate the situation.
Therefore, it’s in the interest of supplement manufacturers to design safe products. Since that is the case, then what if the product is deliberately designed as a sham? The customer may be none the wiser and out of several dollars. This one of the ways a manufacturer can slip under the severely limited radar of the FDA’s supplement oversight. No obvious moral arguments can support this business model, but in the current political climate of the U.S., this practice may be here to stay for much longer.