Free Minds & Free Markets

What’s Really in Your Fish Oil? Labdoor Uses a Market-Based Approach to Taming the Supplement Industry.

Founder Neil Thanedar aims to bring accountability to the $36 billion unregulated market without quashing its dynamism.

The $36 billion U.S. supplement industry isn't subject to FDA regulation, which both facilitates experimentation and allows products that don't live up to their health claims to flourish.

Neil Thanedar has a free market solution: In 2012, he co-founded Labdoor to bring accountability to the supplements industry without quashing its dynamism. The company, which has received backing from venture capitalists Mark Cuban and Y Combinator, buys products right off the shelves, tests them, and then posts the results on its website.

The company doesn't currently have the resources to verify whether a given supplement actually delivers its promised effects, testing only for potency and purity and deferring to existing studies on efficacy. In the near future, it plans to create a decentralized network of laboratories called TEST.

"[Labdoor] provides this really nice balance between some kind of regulatory function, but at the same time, it's a free market," says Thanedar. "If you do something wrong, we'll do our best to catch you, but we're not blocking products from the market. We're not setting up a 10-year process to get to the market."

Reason's Zach Weissmueller sat down with Thanedar in one of the company's San Francisco labs to talk about the supplements market, the advantages of privatizing consumer protection, Labdoor's vision of a blockchain-based network of testing facilities, and the company's decision to test supplements marketed by InfoWars founder Alex Jones.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Justin Monticello.

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Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    This is how ALL consumer protection should be done. Retailers and manufacturers have every incentive in the world (money!) to prove to the public that their products are safe, and I can't think of a better way than to once in a while see testers pulling product and testing it on the spot, or at least bagging it to take back to a lab. Of course this depends on the testers being truly independent, and I expect there would be several testing companies in competition to find problems. Look at Consumer Reports -- they do some stupid things, like compare peanut butters for taste, but I bet the public trusts their car reviews more than almost anybody else, at least for objective issues like rollovers, braking, etc. And they are entirely privately funded.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yes, but then FDA assholes would have to find honest jobs. That's why these good ideas cannot take over...

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    So in construction we have Angies List and Better Business Bureau. Never trust the BBB, they have been caught so many times take money from contractors for better scores its amazing they still exist. Angie List is a much better resources because it is funded by the consumer. I haven't watch the video, but I'd be interested to see how they secure their funding for this.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Revenue from selling products they test, which is a conflict of interest, but OTOH, if they ever get caught fudging results, their reputation will not recover. Plus, he says that the best sellers and best products are not always the same.

    They also have outside funding as listed in TFA.

    They plan some kind of blockchain (oooh, that magical buzzword!) setup to allow producers and other testers to all register in one combined pool, and that sounds promising as a way to leep them all honest-ish.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||


  • DiegoF||

    I keep confusing Angie's List with EMILY's List so I avoid.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    BUCS, what's Emily's List?

  • MoreFreedom||

    I agree. Underwriters Laboratory, Angie's List, Consumer Reports (as you noted) and others have also operated in a similar fashion. We also have various review websites (albeit with the downside of fake reviews). Reviewers independent of the sellers are best, though it seems reasonable for companies to pay the organization for the costs of certification. Publications that take advertisements (e..g Good Housekeeping's Seal of Approval) have a conflict of interest, but reputation still matters.

    The free market, if allowed to operate, delivers what people want.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Yes, independent for-profit watchdog agencies are very important. The free market is quite capable of self-regulation in many ways.

  • ||

    The company doesn't currently have the resources to verify whether a given supplement actually delivers its promised effects, testing only for potency and purity and deferring to existing studies on efficacy.

    As it should be. It's the producer's job to worry about the product meeting the consumer's demands and expectations. Labdoor's job is just to ensure the product is labeled and marketed accurately and objectively. Otherwise Labdoor is going to veer pretty hard into highly subjective and territorial favoritism.

  • DiegoF||

    whether a given supplement actually delivers its promised effects

    Also, since for nearly all supplements (with a handful of exceptions: creatine for some people; prescription strength niacin; lactase for the intolerant; people on special diets or the handful of others who suffer true vitamin or mineral deficiencies in the industrialized world; etc.) the answer is no, it is normally an easy call. Suckers can persist in spending their money on this and all the other health woo they feel like.

    Good for Labdoor for delimiting its mission to something easily defined and achieved--checking for ingredients and adulterants. Would clearly be ridiculous for them to attempt something more ambitious anywhere close to what is the evidence it works.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm getting a planned parenthood ad in the sidebar with a picture of Ruth Bader Ginsburg which is NOT flattering.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    What if she had been aborted?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I got a feeling they tried, but when they pulled the coat hanger out, it was shaped as a middle finger.

  • Duelles||

    Yeah! That abortion ruling is the law that can destroy a man's body before it becomes a little boy. So convenient

  • Don't look at me!||

    Tsk. Adblock dude.

  • Duelles||

    We wanted to sell an inherited house that was on well water and asked a company to test the water. The guy said don't do it because then you legally have to disclose if anything turned up negative. Buyer beware. - always.

  • Eman||

    Article, ad, or what difference, at this point, does it make?

  • gphx||

    Fish Oil - for when the mercury in fish just isn't concentrated enough.

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  • cheapmcmbelt||

    I agree!!! You can discuss with other side. That's how you learn and expand your view points.

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