District Court sides with Industry on Dietary Supplement Substantiation

A U.S. District judge New Jersey has ruled in United States v. Bayer Corporation that Bayer will not be held in contempt for alleged violations of a 2007 consent decree regarding the marketing of its Phillip’s Colon Health (PCH) product. The 2007 Consent Decree prohibited Bayer from “making any claim about the performance or efficacy of any dietary supplement, multivitamin or weight-control product unless, at the time Bayer makes the claim, the company possesses competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claim.”  The current decision originates from a motion for an order to show cause filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and further originates from a 2011 FTC investigation concerning whether Bayer possessed competent and reliable scientific substantiation for its claims regarding PCH’s effectiveness as a digestive health product.

Based on evidence collected from its investigation, the DOJ’s motion alleged Bayer should be held in civil contempt for violating the 2007 consent decree concerning the requirement that Bayer substantiates its dietary supplement claims with scientific evidence. Specifically, the motion alleged that Bayer wrongfully made claims that PCH supports digestive health, and the product would help alleviate constipation, diarrhea, and gas and bloating without specific randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to prove that PCH offers these health benefits. In short, the Government’s position, like we have seen time and time again from the FTC, is that the Company must have conducted human studies in order to make the arguably dietary supplement-type claims.

In defense of the motion, Bayer produced as evidence a substantial amount of public domain and proprietary scientific evidence in support of its claims regarding PCH’s effectiveness in fostering digestive health. Further, Bayer argued the DOJ’s reliance on Bayer’s lack of substantiation of its product claims exceeded legislative intent for how dietary supplements should be regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Thus, Bayer countnered the type of evidence required to substantiate claims under the DSHEA was not Laine-Level randomized clinical trials. In other words, Bayer argued that dietary supplements do not need the requisite level of substantiation that would be necessary for the approval of a drug under federal law. Accordingly, Bayer argued it only needed to conduct a periodic review of the literature since Bayer’s structure function claims were not implied disease claims and that the appropriate scientific substantiation standard for structure-function claims does not require Laine-Level randomized clinical trials.

The main takeaway from this is that for dietary supplement manufacturers making structure/function claims, courts may be willing to interpret this a less rigorous evidentiary burden when it comes to claims substantiation, as opposed to more highly regulated products. Additionally, and somewhat more controversially, this decision has been interpreted by some to signal that digestive health structure/function claims are more expansive than originally thought, potentially including constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating.

Navigating the web of regulations governing claims regarding dietary supplements can be a daunting task. If you have any questions about FDA regulations or how they relate to the marketing of dietary supplements, please contact us at contact@sglawfl.com.