Are We Safe From Congress? Senator Orrin Hatch And The Politics Of Vitamins



The Senior Senator from Utah is endangering lives by putting his personal gain before the public’s health.

Like nearly 2/3 of all Americans, I wake up each morning and take a multi-vitamin with my breakfast. Unlike most Americans, I understand that I am taking a risk by ingesting this “good for my health” substance. There are the same risks in taking most herbal supplements according to a recent New York Times article about research on herbal supplements done by Canadian researchers. There is big money involved: the U.S. vitamin and supplements industry (a/k/a nutraceuticals) was forecasted to be $25+ billion in 2013 and the herbal supplement industry market is an additional $5 billion per year.

That vitamin and nutraceutical you take thinking it is made from the best ingredients and it is beneficial for your health may actually be harmful.

“More than 6,300 reports of serious adverse events associated with dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbs, streamed into the FDA from supplement companies, consumers, health-care providers, and others between 2007 and mid-April of 2012. The reports by themselves don’t prove the supplements caused the problems, but the raw numbers are cause for some concern. Symptoms included signs of heart, kidney, or liver problems, aches, allergic reactions, fatigue, nausea, pains, and vomiting.

The reports described more than 10,300 serious outcomes (some included more than one), including 115 deaths and more than 2,100 hospitalizations, 1,000 serious injuries or illnesses, 900 emergency-room visits, and some 4,000 other important medical events.”

These results are not surprising. In 2004, a reporter for The New Yorker Magazine, Michael Spector wrote an expose of the lack of quality control standards in the nutraceutical industry “Miracle In A Bottle”. The article caused a furor and can no longer be found on The New Yorker website, but it can on Mr. Spector’s website:

” Since 1994, when Congress passed a law that deregulated the supplement industry and opened it to a flood of new products, the use of largely unproved herbal remedies-from blueberry extract for impaired vision to saw palmetto for the treatment of enlarged prostates and echinacea to prevent colds-has increased as rapidly as the use of any commonly prescribed drug.

Since that legislation, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, became law, companies have been able to say nearly anything they want about the potential health benefits of what they sell. As long as they don’t blatantly lie or claim to have a cure for a specific disease, such as cancer, diabetes, or aids, they can assert-without providing evidence-that a product is designed to support a healthy heart (CardiAll, for example), protect cells from damage (Liverite), or improve the function of a compromised immune system (Resist). There are almost no standards that regulate how the pills are made, and they receive almost no scrutiny once they are, so consumers never truly know what they are getting. Companies are not required to prove that products are effective, or even safe, before they are put on the market….

One recent Harris poll found that most people believe that if a supplement is on the market it must have been approved by some government agency (not true); that manufacturers are prohibited from making claims for their products unless they have provided data to back those claims up (no such laws exist); and that companies are required to include warnings about potential risks and side effects (they aren’t).”

The primary sponsor of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in Congress and chief protector of the vitamin/nutraceutical industry is Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. Utah manufactures 25% of vitamins/nutraceutricals produced in the United States. It is the relationship between Senator Hatch and his family and the nutraceutical industry that is illustrative what is wrong with politics in the post Citizens United era: Big Money.


The New York Times has reported on Senator Hatch and his family’s close ties with the vitamin/nutraceutical industry.

“Mr. Hatch has been rewarded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, political loyalty and corporate sponsorship of his favorite causes back home.

His family and friends have benefited, too, from links to the supplement industry. His son, Scott Hatch, is a longtime industry lobbyist in Washington, as are at least five of the senator’s former aides. Mr. Hatch’s grandson and son-in-law increase revenue at their chiropractic clinic near here by selling herbal and nutritional treatments, including $35 “thyroid dysfunction” injections and a weight-loss product, “Slim and Sassy Metabolic Blend.” And Mr. Hatch’s former law partner owns Pharmics, a small nutritional supplement company in Salt Lake City.

But many public health experts argue that in his advocacy, Mr. Hatch has hindered regulators from preventing dangerous products from being put on the market, including supplements that are illegally spiked with steroids or other unapproved drugs. They also say he is the person in Washington most responsible for the proliferation of products that make exaggerated claims about health benefits.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) does not believe the oversight of the quality control of nutraceuticals is adequate. It also states that vitamins and supplements are not properly regulated.

“In our 2009 report, we found that consumers are vulnerable to risks posed by potentially unsafe products,” says Lisa Shame, director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO.

“Although FDA has used varied approaches, such as analyzing adverse events and conducting inspections, to identify safety concerns and has taken some actions, such as detaining certain potentially unsafe imported products, in response to these concerns, several factors limit FDA’s ability to further identify and act on safety concerns,” Shame says.

“FDA has partially implemented all of GAO’s 2009 recommendations, such as issuing guidance for new dietary ingredients, clarifying the boundary between dietary supplements and conventional foods, and expanding partnerships to improve consumer understanding. Specifically, FDA developed draft guidance in 2009, 2011, and 2012 to address three GAO recommendations about dietary supplement oversight and formed new partnerships to conduct consumer outreach. However, FDA has not issued final guidance in two cases. FDA officials said that they plan to complete implementation, but they have provided no time frame to do so. With final guidance in place, firms may be able to make more informed product development and marketing decisions, which could ultimately reduce FDA’s enforcement burden in these areas.”

What brands of vitamins and supplements are safe to take? did a consumer survey and makes these recommendations.

The various vitamin quality reviews that I have read to research this article have rated the Nature Made brand as providing the best quality products.  There are many industry standards you should look for, NNFA, NSF International, USP, and Consumer Lab, are all indications that the vitamins/nutraceuticals you are buying is safe.

Senator Hatch’s conflict of interest is indicative why that the Republicans have consistently demanded dismantling or defunding the FDA as part of the budgetary battles. The Senator’s protection of the nutraceutical industry is symptomatic of the big question in current politics – which is more important: people or money? The Democrats are not blameless in these questionable practices, too. lists the biggest campaign contributors to both parties and by committee.

In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin murder scandal, the mainstream press did not report upon an event that has huge health care industry repercussions: Karen Bartlett vs. Mutual Pharmaceutical Company.

In 2004, New Hampshire native, Ms. Bartlett, was given a generic version of an anti-inflammatory drug to treat soreness in her shoulder. Three weeks after taking the drug, she developed “toxic epidermal necrolysis”, a flesh eating disease that eats skin and flesh down to the bone, the equivalent of a third degree burn. The generic drug manufacturer did not include warnings about this known potential “side-effect”. The Supreme Court, not surprisingly, in another typical 5-4 vote ruled “”Because it is impossible for Mutual and other similarly situated manufacturers to comply with both state and federal law, New Hampshire’s warning-based design-defect cause of action is pre-empted with respect to FDA-approved drugs sold in interstate commerce.”

In effect, the SJC just protected the generic drug manufactures from harm if their drug is the same as the original drug produced. This means 80% of drugs, the generics, are now exempt from legal liability for side effects. The result will mean more brand name drugs will be recommended and Big Pharma’s sales and profits increases more at a time when profits have been getting squeezed.

We consumers are often not safe from what we are taking to improve our health and what we are taking  when are we are sick. We know we are not safe from the current in-the-pocket -of- big- business Republican Party.

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