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MLB, John McCain, and the Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010

Posted on February 15, 2010 by Don Spieles
McCain, Pro Athletes Discuss FDA Regulations Of Dietary Supplements

John McCain (seen here with Rob Manfred (L) executive vice president of labor for Major League Baseball, during a news conference on dietary supplements, on Capitol Hill, February 3, 2010) has the support of MLB. Should he?

Just days before the Super Bowl, Senator John McCain (R – Arizona) officially announced the Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 (DSSA10). The bill, which he is co-sponsoring with Senator Byron Dorgan (D – North Dakota) proposes to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) control over the dietary supplement industry.

Inspired in part by the questionable make-up of certain non-prescription supplements, some of which have been blamed by athletes for their positive drug tests, has many supporters (including Bud Selig) that believe that, if signed into law, this bill would be beneficial for both sports and the public at large.

On the surface the bill seems likable enough. The profit margin on dietary supplements and vitamin sales topped $2.25 billion in 2007. Many of the items are marketed so as to lead consumers to the notion that they had true medicinal value while they are supposedly made up of ingredients heretofore not regulated.

McCain’s speech specifically mentioned the concept of certain manufacturers who are less than honest about ingredients, including substances that they should not be. This is the argument that the jocks use, as in, “I was only taking supplements. I had no idea they contained a banned substance!” According to McCain, they may not be lying after all. The issue gets a little bit cloudier, though, when one stops and thinks about that very issue. If the supplement manufacturers are adding substances that they should not be, they are already subject to scrutiny by the FDA. This from (as in Ron Paul):

“The fact is that the FDA has all the legal authority it needs to remove supplements that contain illegal drugs from the market. The FDA has failed to do its job, and there are companies selling dietary supplements that contain prescription drugs. If the FDA continues to fail to do its job, then these companies will continue to sell drug-tainted supplements no matter what new laws are “created” by Congress.”

Game five of the World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies in Philadelphia

Bud Selig supports the DSSA. Some wonder what he sees in it.

Moreover, even with the need for some better safeguards on the sale of supplements, the added issue of the methods proposed – i.e. the jurisdiction of the FDA – are appropriate, or more to the point whether the ends justify the means.

The somewhat silent partner in all of this is the pharmaceutical industry. Dietary supplement manufacturers are competition for the established pharmaceutical companies. While the bulk of profits come from the highly regulated “real” medications that the FDA controls, their competitors are pulling in a large share of the market producing products that are not within the bailiwick of the government.

“Big Business” pharmaceuticals, via their strong lobby, have a vested interest in the passage of DSSA10. With the large influence that the lobby holds in terms of its “partnerships” within Congress (and by extension the FDA), is it not reasonable to believe that the body that will regulate the supplement industry might be unfairly influenced by that very industry’s main competitor?

As for professional sports, the issue has always been education and self-regulation. The recent changes in the drug policy of Major League Baseball, while certainly sped along by government publicity, are as successful as they have been because they are internal. Athletes need to be smarter about what they put in their bodies. Is it too much to expect that a professional baseball player that makes (at least) several hundred thousands of dollars per year and has at his disposal a full compliment of team trainers and medical staff could take the time to fully explore the supplements that he plans on taking?

MLB does its own testing and levies its own punishments. Even if one assumes that the plea of the fallen,that they were unaware of contents of their supplements,  is true, a plan of action that begins far away in Washington D.C. seems very distant thunder to be inspiring support from the Commissioner.

The issue has an odd final irony to it, as well. The same Congressmen who usually rant and rave about trying to avoid “big government” are the same ones who are usually closest to big business. Those two tenants are usually congruent. It will be fascinating to see how the situation plays out now that those two side will be in opposition.

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