Vitamin Squad


When Food and Drug Administration agents broke down the door of the Tahoma Medical Clinic where Marge Murphy worked as a receptionist, they stuck a gun in her face and told her to reach for the sky. Accompanied by 20 armed police officers, the FDA agents began their May 6 raid in search of what they called "dangerous drugs": vitamin B supplements.

The FDA has been using such scare tactics against organizations advertising the health benefits of nutritional supplements for years, but their frequency has been stepped up since David Kessler became the agency's head. Once a physician or company makes a health claim about a vitamin or other nutritional supplement, that substance falls under the FDA's definition of an "unapproved drug." Thanks to a bill introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah), the FDA may soon be prohibited from carrying out raids for vitamins and minerals as if they were looking for cocaine or heroin.

The Health Freedom Act of 1992 would prohibit the FDA from calling a nutritional supplement a drug solely because it exceeds the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance or because its labeling makes a truthful health claim—that, say, vitamin D pills prevent rickets or calcium is good for your bones. The bill would also broaden the definition of nutritional supplement to cover herbs and herbal extracts.

Steven Fowkes, president of Direct Action for Treatment Access, says the Hatch bill is "an attempt to counteract the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which would outlaw above-RDA vitamins without prior FDA approval." The NLEA regulations will go into effect in November.

Says Hatch, "Consumers should be able to purchase any food they want—whether it is an egg, ice cream, a steak, coffee, potato chips, or a dietary supplement—regardless of whether someone in the federal bureaucracy approves."