Mission impossible? Regulatory and enforcement issues to ensure safety of dietary supplements

Petroczi, Andrea, Taylor, Glenn and Naughton, Declan (2011) Mission impossible? Regulatory and enforcement issues to ensure safety of dietary supplements. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 49(2), pp. 393-402. ISSN (print) 0278-6915


Dietary supplements are widely used across all ages and user groups and constitute a considerable business sector in most developed countries. Hazards relating to concentration, composition, individual contaminants and supplement interactions present an increasing public health concern. The aim of this paper is to review the literature for reported supplement contaminations (occurs in ca 25% of supplements, with anabolic steroids being the most common) and complement these findings with notifications logged in the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) through imports or market surveillance, typically logged for poor quality control issues. Notifications in the RASFF have steadily increased by sixfold for supplements in the past 7 years with the USA and China being the major transgressors. Finland and Italy lead in detections, mainly notifying unpermitted substances and contaminants in sexual-enhancing or weight-loss supplements. This paper highlights the paucity of enforcement. Regulating supplements as a foodstuff and not a medicine, coupled with the fact that a significant proportion of the supplement market is distributed via the Internet (hence absent from routine border control and surveillance), make ensuring and enforcing safety a very challenging task. The need for better quality control, compliance and public awareness is evident.

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