Supplement Companies Fail ‘Kindergarten’
Steps of Industry’s Safety Regulations

Attention arthritis sufferers:  Two-thirds of supplement companies inspected fail to pass the most elementary of the industry’s safety guidelines.  This alarming trend has existed for seven years from 2010 through 2016.  During this period, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has found an average of 65.3% of dietary supplement makers in non-compliance of current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) rules. 1, 4 

For fiscal year 2016, the FDA issued non-compliance (Form 483) letters to 362 of 583 (62%) supplement companies inspected.    The industry had shown some improvement after averaging 70% non-compliance for each of the three years from 2010-2012. 4 The next three years percentages were 65%, 62% and 58% for 2013-2015, according to details obtained from FDA in March 2017 via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by 1 

Through inspections, the FDA has discovered that supplement companies often break basic manufacturing  rules by failing:

  • to set specifications for products
  • to properly test ingredients, and
  • to verify that finished batches match the specs and facts listed on labels.

These non-compliant aspects of agency law are described by an annoyed industry official as “basic, basic kindergarten steps.’ 2

“These are the basics to ensure consumers get products that meet minimal quality standards,” said Daniel Fabricant while in his former position as director of FDA’s division of dietary supplement programs.  “This is the proverbial crawling before you run.  Companies have got to be able to do this,” he continued.  “Without the confirmation of ingredient testing, you don’t know what you are putting in a product is basically what supplement companies are telling consumers.  That’s a big problem.”2

[Editor’s note:  If you found this arthritis-relief-naturally website while investigating the quality of supplements you use (or, if you’re considering using supplements), we confidently recommend the industry’s leading manufacturer we have personally trusted since 1989].

Some supplement companies ‘are not testing at all’   
Are grandma’s cookie recipes followed more closely than some supplements?
Most consumers unaware FDA does not approve supplements
Supplements are not reviewed or seen by FDA before marketing
Most FDA investigations occur AFTER adverse events are reported
Half of supplement companies fail FDA re-inspections in 2015
Failed supplement companies inspections put consumers at risk
Dietary supplements are not risk free
The recommended gold standard nutritional supplement company

Some supplement companies ‘are not testing at all’  

Supplement companies are supposed to test incoming ingredients to verify whether the components listed on the supplier's Certificate of Analysis (CoA) are accurate and affirm the manufacturer's order.  “We’re finding some companies are not testing at all,” Fabricant said. 

Manufacturers are also required to test a completed product.  "Too frequently, firms are not confirming the identity, strength and composition of their finished supplements," said Pieter Cohen, M.D., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, who has studied supplement safety for many years.  "This leaves consumers wondering, 'what's actually in my botanical supplement?"2

These failures to properly test ingredients places dietary supplement consumers into a 'buyer beware' corner. Tainted and fake supplements are purchased daily by unsuspecting consumers from retailers they believe are reputable.

Retailers are not responsible for supplement problems. The law holds the manufacturer answerable, period.

Are grandma’s cookie recipes followed more closely than some supplements?

A supplement industry association executive, Steve Mister, president and CEO for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) compared failing basic cGMP rules to a person about to follow grandma’s cookie recipe.

Mister described the cGMP as simply “a more elaborate way of making sure when you make your grandmother’s cookies from her cookie recipe, you are going to end up with something that tastes like your grandmother’s cookies,” he said.

He compared failing to test incoming supplement ingredients akin to reaching into a canister for flour to make cookies without looking inside.  “For all you know, you picked up sugar or baking soda instead of flour,” he said.

In expressing his disappointment in the industry, he added, “The level of trust that consumers have in our products is much higher than a chocolate chip cookie.  So, we owe it to our consumers to have a specification for what that product looks like and to do a batch record test to make sure we have followed the recipe.” 2

Consumers of dietary supplements need to be “more savvy” about their purchasing decisions, Mister recommended.  “They need to purchase products from supplement companies they trust.”2 

Indeed, FDA cautions consumers: “Remember, FDA cannot test all products on the market to identify those that contain potentially harmful hidden ingredients. Consumers must also be aware of these dangerous products and learn how to identify and avoid them."9

Most consumers unaware FDA does not approve supplements

While it’s difficult to quantify today, 52% of respondents in 2008 were unaware that dietary supplements had not been approved by the government while 63% were unaware that the advertisement for that supplement had not been pre-approved, according to a Journal of Community Health study. 10  

Dietary supplements are not FDA approved.  Under the law (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994) dietary supplement makers do not need FDA approval prior to marketing their products.  On the contrary, it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to make sure its own products are safe and that any claims are true. 9 

Unlike prescription drugs that go through rounds of rigorous testing and clinical trials before they reach a pharmacy, the current system requires supplement companies to make sure they adhere to guidelines established by the FDA 5 

Supplements are not reviewed or seen by FDA before marketing

The fact that the FDA does not review or even see a new supplement before it is marketed is a distinction that regulators are concerned consumers may not know about.    “I do think it’s a very important thing to be able to point out to the customer that there is essentially no pre-market review that’s done at the FDA before these products go on the market,” said the agency’s then acting commissioner, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, in an interview for a PBS Frontline documentary, Supplements and Safety,  in January 2016.5

Supplement companies don’t have to win FDA approval before bringing a product to market, unless it contains a new ingredient that’s never been marketed before, which is not often.  The FDA does oversee labeling, but it usually can’t determine whether a manufacturer is following its guidelines until there’s a problem. 9

“Just because you see a supplement product on a store shelf does NOT mean it is safe or effective,” the FDA warns on its online ‘Dietary Supplements and the FDA’ page, which continues: “When safety issues are suspected, FDA must investigate and, when warranted, take steps to have the product recalled from the market.  However, it is much easier for a firm to get a product on the market than it is for FDA to take a product off the market.”. 9

Most FDA investigations occur AFTER adverse events are reported

More often than from inspections, the agency steps in after consumers experience adverse health events from a product that’s already on the shelves that’s misbranded or found to be adulterated. 9

The FDA does not routinely analyze the content of dietary supplements before or after they are sold to consumers.  An FDA website says, “….. FDA has limited resources to analyze ……. dietary supplements, it focuses these resources first on public health emergencies and products that may have caused injury or illness.”  8

FDA continues: “Enforcement priorities then go to products thought to be unsafe or fraudulent or in violation of the law.  The remaining funds are used for routine monitoring of products pulled from store shelves, or collected during inspections of manufacturing firms.”  8

Once a supplement is on shelves, the FDA relies on inspections of the manufacturer to assess whether the product actually contains what it says it does.  For the reasons outlined, FDA annually inspects a fraction of 15,000 registered domestic and foreign owners.3, 5, 6 

Half of supplement companies failed FDA re-inspections in 2015

FDA spot re-inspects some of the supplement companies who were previously sent noncompliance Form 483 letters.  Half of the follow-up re-inspections during fiscal year 2015 resulted in additional significant noncompliance with cGMPs, according to a June 2016 story for Natural Products Insider by Josh Long.3

These firms were targeted by the FDA as “high risk” and had previously failed inspections.  They were categorized as subjects of a “official action indicated (OAI)”, a regulatory classification described on FDA’s website as “objectionable conditions were found, and regulatory action should be recommended.”

 According to Insider, the two most common failures included incomplete Batch Production Records (BPR) and failing to test ingredients, two basic and vital regulations of the cGMP.

“That’s of course concerning that these firms are not bringing the basic aspects of the GMP system into compliance,” said Cara Welch, Ph.D., FDA’s senior advisor in the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs, in a phone interview with Insider. “We’ve cited them. We go back, and they still have the same violations.”

Insider also quoted Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA) in Washington, referring to the overall slim chance of a reinspection, “There is a pretty high percentage of people that are gambling that, ‘Hey, FDA got me once, but they’re not going to get (inspect) me again.’”

The FDA will never have adequate resources to inspect firms as often as they would like, noted Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association to Insider.  “The agency will always have to make decisions about resource allocation,” he said in a phone interview. 3

Failed supplement companies inspections put consumers at risk

Supplement companies that fail industry safety guidelines potentially put consumer health at risk.  The GMP rules were crafted to protect public health from harmful and contaminated products.

Regulations require persons who manufacture, package, label, or hold a finished dietary supplement to establish and follow cGMPs to ensure the quality of the dietary supplement, and that it’s packaged and labeled as specified in the Master Manufacturing Record (MMR).11

Supplement companies are required to ensure the identify, purity, quality, strength and composition of both their ingredients and the finished product.

This includes a 100% identity testing requirement by the manufacturer for incoming raw materials and finished product testing to ensure identity, purity, quality, strength and composition of dietary supplements.

In addition, the regulations impose requirements for sanitary practices, proper training of personnel, cleaning of equipment, and in-process controls to ensure consistency of product quality. 

Dietary supplements are not risk free

Dietary supplements are not regulated the same way as medications. This lack of oversight puts consumers’ health at risk.  Yet Americans often turn to supplements as a presumed natural and safe alternative to the side effects of prescription medications.

There are numerous reports about health risks associated with untested, poor quality and often inexpensive dietary supplements. Two such writings capture the risks--Supplements Can Make You Sick and Ten Surprising Dangers of Vitamins and Supplements--Don't Assume They're Safe Because They're 'All Natural' appeared in Consumer Reports magazine on July 27, 2016 and in September 2012. 12,13

For the 2016 report by Jeneen Interlndi, Consumer Reports, with the help of an expert panel, identified 15 supplement ingredients to avoid that were linked to serious medical problems including organ damage, cancer, and cardiac arrest.  Their investigation found those substances in products sold at some of the country’s most trusted retailers, including Costco, GNC, and Whole Foods.13

In the magazine’s 2012 review of supplement companies, a main danger was product-caused adverse events, including signs of heart, kidney, or liver problems, allergic reactions, etc. that caused emergency room visits and hospitalizations.  12

A second danger involved recalls of dietary supplements spiked with hidden prescription drugs, which the FDA's Daniel Fabricant described as "the largest threat" to consumer safety. Adulterated products can cause some of the same side effects and interactions that consumers may have been trying to avoid by choosing supplements over drugs.12

The recommended gold standard of nutritional supplement company

The 'gold standard' company for quality, safety and efficacy in the dietary supplement industry since 1956, is the same California-based firm the FDA sought input from when forming the industry's manufacturing guidelines. Many requirements and protocols for manufacturing that are now included in the cGMPs mimic the earlier processes developed by this trusted leader.

From personal use since 1989, we confidently recommend the leading manufacturer in the U.S.  For arthritis relief, their "pain trio" of joint and muscle pain relief products are extremely safe and effective.

This 'beyond organic'  firm is remarkably different from other supplement companies.

They operate more like a pharmaceutical company.  Their products, and the quality and science behind them, are unmatched in the industry.  These 10 Key Steps ensures their supplements are the best in the market place: 14

  1. 100,000 tests annually to ensure safety and efficacy of their products.
  2. Every product batch is tested to guarantee what’s on the label is what’s in the product—over the entire shelf life of the product. 
  3. All ingredients in their products are qualified under an incredibly stringent protocol, unique in the industry, which for new botanical ingredients requires testing for up to 350 chemical contaminants, including pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, solvent residues, etc. of which over 220 pesticides are beyond those required by the U.S. Phamacopeia.
  4. Their 70-plus science staff creates formulations so that the key active ingredients are included at scientifically supported levels, often significantly higher than many other supplement companies.
  5. Each product is formulated with extensively studied nutritional ingredients to confirm safety and efficacy. 
  6. Their science employs advanced delivery systems designed to dramatically improve the absorption of key nutrients—and these systems are tested in selected products to confirm their nutrient delivery advantages.
  7. A robust raw material and supplier qualification program which requests stringent testing of all raw materials, including comprehensive contaminant testing, which ensures they meet the company’s quality requirements.
  8. An unwavering commitment to avoid the use of artificial flavors, sweeteners, and added preservatives.  They use only non-genetically modified soy protein.  They do no animal testing.
  9. Their proprietary product performance compared to other supplement companies is also demonstrated by:· 
  • Over 135 scientific publications, 100 of which in peer-reviewed respected journals.

  • Landmark Study; the only study of its kind, which showed that people who took multiple of the company's nutritional supplements over a period of 20 years had remarkably better health than those who took a single multivitamin from other companies and non-users of supplements.
  • Their nutritional supplements have powered athletes to win 121 Olympic and world medals.
  • Their products have fueled world explorers; Seven of Time Life's "Greatest Adventures of All Time," and NASA Shuttle astronauts with a special rehydration product (called Astro-Ade)

    10. They have developed “green” cleaning products and reaped a list of awards and accomplish-                    ments in environmental leadership and responsibility, including the first  company awarded                        Climate Neutral status in the U.S. 

No matter whether you are considering supplement companies for arthritis-related symptoms, safe weight loss or better overall body and mind health, follow this best of supplement companies link (from there you can access Shaklee Science, Complete Research Archive, Ingredient Glossary, and more).  


 1.    ConsumerLab, Recalls and Warnings Posted March 17, 2017; FDA Finds Problems at 62% of Supplement Mfg Sites in U.S. and Abroad; Non Compliance percentages; login required, accessed June 19, 2018:

 2.    Long, Josh; article: FDA Still Finds Basic GMP Violations in Supplement Industry. Kindergarten Steps. Natural Products Insider. March 31, 2016.                                                                                         

3.    Long, Josh, article; FDA Targets High-Risk Firms for Dietary Supplement GMP Reinspections, published Natural Products Insider June 20, 2016

4.    Long, Josh, article; FDA Data: Supplement cGMP Compliance Rates (in 2013 65% of supplement firms inspected reflected violations of the cGMP. Also non-compliance percentages for 2010, 2011, 2012. Natural Products Insider, February 27, 2014          

5.    Boghani, Priyanka, article, Can Regulators Keep Up with the Supplements Industry, “85,000 supplements on market”; PBS Frontline, January 19, 2016    

6.    Kapoor, A; Sharfstein, JM. Study, Breaking the gridlock: Regulation of dietary supplements in the United States, journal Drug Testing & Analysis, November 2, 2015. 15,000 supplement manufacturers.      

7.    US Food and Drug Administration, FDA 101: Dietary Supplements, accessed June 19, 2018 

8.      US Food and Drug Administration, Questions and Answers on Dietary Supplements accessed June 18, 2018      

9.    US Food and Drug Administration, Beware of Fraudulent Dietary Supplements (FDA Does Not Approve) accessed June 15, 2018                      

10.  Birnal, H et al; Study, Patients’ Understanding of the Regulation of Dietary    Supplements (53% unaware FDA does not approve dietary supplements), Journal of Community Health, February 2008 Vol 33 Issue 1, pp 22-30

11. Pdf document, What’s the Difference? Food and Dietary Supplement Regulations Compared. Accessed June 20, 2018, Council for Responsible Nutrition         

12.  Report, 10 surprising dangers of vitamins and supplements—Don’t assume they’re safe because they’re ‘all natural’, published Consumer Reports Magazine September 2012.  

13.  Report, Supplements Can Make You Sick (Dietary supplements are not regulated the same way as medications.  This lack of oversight puts consumers’ health at risk). Published Consumer Reports Magazine, July 27, 2016    

14. Shaklee News, How Well do You Understand the Shaklee Difference? (Ten Reasons Why Shaklee is Best). Accessed June 20, 2018   

Supplement Companies Disclaimer: Health statements on this supplement companies page have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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