Last year, $7 billion were spent on dietary supplements in the United States. Much of that money went to network marketing companies that stake their business existence on the right to sell these products.

But this right is under threat. A public relations war against dietary supplements is being waged, and legislation is pending in Congress and even being drafted under the auspices of the United Nations to limit the sale of these products.

The Drive to Regulate Supplements

In May, the National Institutes of Health issued a draft statement at their annual State of the Science Conference calling for greater government regulation over the sale of harmless supplements. “It is important that the FDA’s purview over these products be authorized and implemented,” they wrote.

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal published a cover story that alleged dietary supplements were harmful to Americans’ health. But a careful read of the article reveals that it was based on a handful of discredited studies and ignored the mountains of research being published that clearly show many supplements improve health and rarely cause harm.

Overseas, a commission known as Codex Alimentarius has been drafting regulations to limit access to dietary supplements around the world.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is the international body sponsored by the United Nations and World Health Organization to set global food standards—and their guidelines for dietary supplements are way out of sync and more restrictive than the current standards in the United States.

They could also trump U.S. laws protecting the right to sell supplements.

Dr. Matthias Rath, protégé of two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, has been warning the world about both domestic and international threats to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) for close to a decade. DSHEA is the law that since 1994 has protected the rights of Americans to buy—and sell—dietary supplements. If you are currently running a business that receives most of its revenue from the sale of micronutrients, you owe your livelihood to the existence of DSHEA.

But many researchers believe that these supplements ultimately cut into the sale of pharmaceutical drugs because they serve as an effective form of preventive medicine that artificial drugs cannot compete with. So it shouldn’t be a big surprise that drug companies have been lobbying Congress for the past decade to undo the protections that DSHEA gives both businesses and the public with regard to the availability of supplements.

An End Run Around National Autonomy

Thus far, those domestic attempts have failed to pass Congress. Even with NIH recommendations like the one published in May and non-stop lobbying of Congress by pharmaceutical giants for restrictions on dietary supplements, attempts to gut the landmark bill have yet to succeed.

But while pharmaceutical companies have failed in the United States, they have succeeded in restricting the sale of supplements in much of Europe. And with Codex, those restrictions could spread here. As a member of the World Trade Organization, the United States is required to follow Codex’s guidelines on dietary supplements. The WTO requires the United States to “harmonize” its trade policies with other countries. Free access to supplements in the U.S. could be labeled an unfair trade advantage in the WTO, leading to the elimination of DSHEA’s protections and restricting the sale of supplements here.

“True, Codex cannot directly impose a finalized standard on the USA, because harmonization works indirectly,” warns John Hammell of the International Advocates for Health Freedom. “The U.S. could refuse harmonization… but then we would be hit with trade sanctions. In theory, Congress could accept the sanctions and refuse to harmonize, but the sanctions can be imposed across a broad spectrum of industries unrelated to supplements, so the reality is that no country can afford to accept this penalty. This threat would put immense lobbying pressures on Congress to change our laws.”

Follow the Money

Meanwhile, the public relations campaign being waged against dietary supplements attempts to dress up these products as somehow dangerous to consumers, even though there is no credible evidence showing that supplements do any harm. While pharmaceutical drugs, properly prescribed, are the third leading cause of death in America, dietary supplements simply don’t kill people. Yet the Wall Street Journal made the “threat” of supplements front-page news.

Why the sudden backlash against supplements?

The reason is that $7 billion. If people are buying supplements from network marketers and getting healthier as a result, it ultimately means they won’t be at their local drug store purchasing pharmaceutical products to treat their symptoms. This is why the pharmaceutical industry has taken such an intense interest in the regulation of supplements.

Pharmaceutical giants are not spending millions lobbying Congress out of charity or to benefit the health of the average American. They’re doing it to protect their bottom line. Network marketing companies that sell alternative health products are a direct threat to that bottom line.

Despite the efforts of natural health advocates like Matthias Rath, M.D., who has campaigned against Codex and for DSHEA for more than a decade, the pharmaceutical giants have been gaining ground. Only time will tell if the network marketing community takes the threat seriously—or if they allow a segment of their industry to disappear with the stroke of a Presidential pen some time in the near future.

DON KARN is a long-time corporate officer in
network marketing and serves on the Board of Directors
of Gabriel Media Group, Inc., publishers of
Networking Times.