Regulation of Supplements

Recently, an alarm was sounded that "the authorities" are trying to take away supplement products sold over-the-counter to horse owners. Some people have portrayed it as if Big Brother were trying to keep useful products away from the animals that might benefit from those products, but here's the straight scoop.

It is a fact that supplement products are coming under scrutiny. That scrutiny is coming at the behest of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). AAFCO is a not-for-profit group formed to help officials of various governmental agencies (including the FDA) work together to explore problems related to the regulation of animal feeds and help those agencies communicate with the supplement industry in an effort to help ensure that products sold to animal owners are safe and effective.

In the past, the supplement products sold to animal owners have not been closely regulated. Anyone who regularly frequents a feed store cannot fail to be impressed with the seemingly endless number of products, as well as the seemingly endless number of supporting claims for their usefulness. But therein lies the problem; many of the ingredients in these products are not recognized as safe for inclusion in animal feeds. Many of them might not be pure. Many of them make drug claims (they state, by word or by picture, that the product diagnoses, treats, cures, or prevents disease). There are many state and federal laws to prohibit this sort of behavior.

AAFCO and its members have become concerned with the current status of many animal feed supplements. By law, ingredients put in animal feeds must be defined and submitted for approval through AAFCO. One part of the approval process requires a judgment on the safety of the ingredient. Another part of the approval process is that the ingredient supplier has to relate to AAFCO the purpose of the product. A product can't be submitted for approval as a nutrient, then be marketed using drug claims.

Quite simply, what AAFCO is trying to do is to convince the states and the FDA to enforce laws that already exist. Horse owners certainly want products to be safe and contain what they say on the label, so there shouldn't be much of an issue.

However, some people might be convinced that a product "works" even if there's no evidence that it does, or they might not see any reason to take a product off the market that has been sold and used for years without safety concerns. In addition, manufacturers of such products might not be keen to have them closely regulated. Thus, protests are inevitable, both from the consumers who perceive health benefits from such products and from manufacturers who receive financial benefits from their sale.

But the issues get thorny and the questions complex. The fact is that the current marketplace is loaded with products that have not been proven to be safe or effective. Are there any consequences to the animals being fed such products? Should food-producing animals be fed these unregulated products when they might then enter the food chain? Should there be a distinction between food-producing and companion animals? Should the current federal and state statutory requirements be enforced to provide necessary protection to both the consumers and the animals? Should consumers be protected from products that are not pure? Or should it just be a free market and "buyer beware?"

AAFCO believes that some regulation is a good thing, and they're going about their proposals openly and honestly (see www.aafco.org). Sadly, opponents of regulation appear to be trying to inflame public opinion. In fact, currently used supplements are not necessarily "illegal;" however, they might be unapproved or undefined. No removal of any product from the marketplace is currently planned, nor is there any plan for action against products that meet AAFCO standards. However, AAFCO will target for enforcement one ingredient that is currently undefined, unapproved for use in animals, and, according to the FDA, could pose some danger to animals. That ingredient has not been chosen at this time.

It is sad that there is a misunderstanding about what is required for ingredients to be allowed into animal feeds and what remedy is being proposed. Even though current rules and regulations have been overlooked, consumers should expect that the products they buy for their animals are safe, effective, and pure, and that the regulations that are designed to ensure such standards are enforced.

About the Author

David Ramey, DVM

"David Ramey, DVM, is a 1983 graduate of Colorado State University. After completing an internship in equine medicine and surgery at Iowa State University, he entered private equine practice in southern California in 1984. Dr. Ramey is also a noted author and lecturer, having written for and spoken to professional and lay audiences around the world on many topics pertaining to horse health. See also http://www.horseandriderbooks.com/david_ramey.html."

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