Should You Register Your Labels?

By Curtis Walcker, M.S.
March 8, 2017

Four questions worth asking before participating in the Supplement OWL registry.

I review dietary supplement labels for clients on a near-daily basis – Sunday through Saturday – with very little exception. So in April of 2016, when I saw in the industry news that the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) was launching its Supplement Online Wellness Library (Supplement OWL – http://www.supplementowl.org/index.html) label registry, I was interested. It did not appear to be something entirely different than the NIH’s existing Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD – https://dsld.nlm.nih.gov/dsld/).

Admittedly, after a brief read of a news article or two, I did not follow the developments very closely, other than to see it was in beta-testing with a handful of companies. However, this week advertising has ramped up significantly, and according to the site, the Supplement OWL is now accepting labels. As such, it seemed like a good time to try and weigh the risks and benefits of registering labels.

While some of the above sounds fine and possibly helpful, especially for consumers, I struggled to come up with really convincing reasons why I might want to register my labels as a brand owner. In fact, it was much easier to conjure up reasons that registering might not be a good idea at all. Here are four questions worth asking before participating in the registry:

  1. Will my customers find my products in the registry and gain trust in them?

    A lot of things have to line up for this to work out. First, your customers will need to learn about what the Supplement OWL is. Then they have to take the time to use it. And even if they use it, they then need to know how to take the information provided by the registry and interpret it well enough to make informed buying decisions. All of which may not give the slightest guarantee that a product is free of adulterants or manufactured under cGMPs. Will consumers seek out only registered label products? That seems unlikely, but more likely in a scenario where retailers demand registration.

  2. Do I really want to make my labels and information available to the FDA and FTC more than I already do?

    The only public comment from the FDA that is readily found in a NutraIngredients-USA article basically states that the FDA looks forward to learning more about the program, but will continue to focus on compliance throughout the industry. That does not indicate strongly that the FDA would be spending time looking through the registry. However, if the FDA decided that a widely used ingredient was not a legal dietary ingredient for instance, the registry could be used to identify offenders – which is great, unless you might be an unassuming offender. On the FTC side, it is imaginable that they could search out products for something like brain health, and you might end up under more scrutiny than you otherwise might have.

  3. Who else might be looking?

    This is the real question to ask. The Supplement OWL could become a treasure trove to enterprising plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking out product labels with improper Made in the USA claims, arguable natural claims, FALCPA non-compliances, claims questionable in regards to substantiation, and more. Just like they are said to patrol the FDA Warning Letters, a registry with so much information could also open up more doors for these frivolous occurrences.

  4. How much time will it take to participate?

    If you are a brand owner with many labels, it could be a large amount of upfront work, as well as maintenance work. There is a lot of data to enter with each product, and if you have been in the industry any amount of time, you will know that label revisions are made frequently for address changes, excipient changes, ingredient changes, not to mention all of the new Supplement Facts panels that will come in to effect in the not so distant future. The information you enter today could be obsolete tomorrow. You should be prepared to commit significant time to not have outdated information floating around out there.

The above questions and concerns are purely speculative at the moment, but as a brand owner, I think my strategy right now would simply be to wait and see how everything plays out over the next year or so. If you are a CRN member, that might not be an option, as participation appears to be mandatory. However, if you have the luxury of taking it slow, you might keep close watch, and even try to identify some leverage points from the outside, such as more easily monitoring competitor products and surveying entire product categories.

FDA Warning Letters 2015 Summary

By Curtis Walcker, M.S.
February 4, 2016

In 2015, the FDA issued 80 Warning Letters (WLs) to dietary supplement (DS) companies. This was a 12.68% increase on the 71 issued in 2014. The increase can in part be attributed to the large number of WLs issued to companies marketing products adulterated with non-dietary ingredients such as beta-methylphenethylamine (BMPEA) and 1,3-dimethylbutylamine (DMBA).

Number of 2015 Warning Letters

 

Inspections

Because many of the WLs sent were for the non-dietary ingredient violations, and inspections for those products generally involved review of the labels for ingredients, inspection types categorized as ‘labels’ were significantly higher than other categories in 2015. This did not equate to a proportionally high number of WLs citing label violations.

Inspection types resulting in WLs expanded in 2015. Social media sites have been receiving more scrutiny. The FDA is also looking for claims on online retail sites where companies are marketing DSs, such as Etsy and Amazon.

FDA Inspection Types

 

Geographic Locations

Below are heat maps of the continental Unites States showing the prevalence of WLs received by DS companies by State, as well as which States they were sent from. In 2015, companies in Florida, California, and Utah received the most WLs. The FDA tended to send the most WLs out of the District Offices located in Maryland, California, and Colorado.

2015-FDA-warning-letters-by-state

 

Violations

Disease claims were the most cited violation in WLs for 2015. Non-dietary ingredient adulteration violations were in a distant second place due to some crackdowns on particular ingredients. Violations in current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) and labels were cited in more than 20 WLs each, indicating continued challenges for companies in both areas.

2015-FDA-violation-types

 

Disease Claims

The FDA cited disease claims violations from a variety of places, demonstrating their increasing concern about what companies are saying and where they are saying it. Product names that were disease claims topped the list along with disease claims made on Facebook. New areas in 2015 include e-books, LinkedIn, and Tumblr.

locations

 

Not much changed in 2015 from previous years in terms of the types of disease claims marketers are illegally using. The top 15 should be no surprise. Combinations of many of these showed up in several of the WLs. The FDA generally only cites disease claims violations in WLs that are clearly explicit.

cited-claims

 

cGMPs

Violations of every Subpart of the cGMP regulations were cited in the 2015 WLs. Production & process controls and quality control Subparts saw the most violations. Companies failing to have adequate master manufacturing records (MMRs) and batch production records (BPRs) continues to be a major problem.

subpart-violations

subpart-violations2

 

Labels

Of the 80 DS WLs issued in 2015, nearly 30% of them cited violations for product labels. This number is likely deceivingly low because so many of the non-dietary ingredient WLs seemingly failed to also cite label violations for the offending products. All 23 WLs citing label violations highlighted errors within the information panels; only 13 involved errors within the principal display panels.

label-violations

One of the biggest label violations of 2015 involved matching the label’s recommended usage of the product to the declared Serving Size. The majority of the top 10 violations were made within Supplement Facts panels. Failing to include proper contact information for the reporting of serious adverse events associated with product use is a prevalent problem among labels.
labels
Note: All information in this article was derived in good faith and is believed to be accurate. Data was collected from all 2015 FDA Warning Letters issued to dietary supplement companies posted on the FDA’s website as of February 3, 2016.

FDA Warning Letter Amended

By Curtis Walcker, M.S.
November 8, 2015

making-the-correctionMany professions require continuing education to keep the professionals in those fields abreast of the trends and evolving research. For us that are involved in dietary supplement regulatory affairs, one of the best unofficial methods of continuing education comes in the form of FDA Warning Letters. A careful reading of these each week not only reminds us of the regulations, but shows us how the FDA is interpreting them, and which issues might be on their radar. In addition, when we are suggesting that our companies or client’s make changes to their manufacturing practices, labels, claims, etc., it can be easier at times to get buy-in when not only the regulations, but also one or more recent FDA Warning Letters can be brought to the discussion table to demonstrate the needs and the associated risks.

This month’s article is a short story about a recent FDA Warning Letter to a Company called New Dawn Nutrition, Inc., (previously) dated 8/7/2015. An excerpt of one of the cited violations for their labels read as follows:

“Your “NDNFA Prime Pure Super Protein” (Cake Batter and Vanilla Milkshake varieties) product labels declare potassium present at “5%” of the Daily Value, phosphorus present at “9%” of the Daily Value, and calcium present at “17%” of the Daily Value~ however, according to 21 CFR 101.9(c)(8)(iii), the percentages for vitamins and minerals shall be declared in increments of 2-percent up to and including the 10-percent level and the nearest 5-percent increment above 10-percent and up to and including the 50-percent level.”

This violation would have been pretty mundane if it was cited for conventional food products, but these were dietary supplements. And for dietary supplements, there is a separate regulation from 21 CFR 101.9(c)(8)(ii), which is 21 CFR 101.36(b)(2)(iii)(C), that reads:

“The percentages based on RDI’s and on DRV’s shall be expressed to the nearest whole percent, except that for dietary ingredients for which DRV’s have been established, “Less than 1%” or “<1%” shall be used to declare the “% Daily Value” when the quantitative amount of the dietary ingredient by weight is great enough to require that the dietary ingredient be listed, but the amount is so small that the “% Daily Value” when rounded to the nearest percent is zero (e.g., a product that contains 1 gram of total carbohydrate would list the percent Daily Value as “Less than 1%” or “<1%”).”

Further, the Dietary Supplement Labeling Guide provides the following:

What rounding rules must I use for expressing the % DV?
You must express the percentages to the nearest whole percent, except that “Less than 1 %” or “< 1 %” must be used when the amount present is big enough to be listed, but so small that the % DV when rounded to the nearest percent is zero. For example, a product containing 1 gram of total carbohydrate would list the % DV as “Less than 1 %” or “< 1 %.”

So why is any of this important? Because the labeling regulations and FDA guidance say that the Daily Value percentages used on the labels above should be rounded to the nearest whole percent, as they appear to have been. However, the FDA Warning Letter was holding them to the rounding used for conventional foods. And if you are a label reviewer that has been doing it one way or the other, this FDA Warning Letter might have led you to believe you have been doing it incorrectly, or worse, reinforced your incorrect rounding.

Because we review hundreds of labels each year, getting the issue clarified was extremely important. Even though it clearly looked like a mistake on the FDA’s part, there is too much on the line to make that assumption. As such, we sent a letter to the FDA District Office with the question. Although it took a few weeks to get a response, their re-review recognized the error. So if you happened to have had a feeling of déjà vu when you again saw the New Dawn Nutrition, Inc. FDA Warning Letter in late September, it was because it was amended to not include the Daily Value rounding violations and reposted on the FDA’s website.

In the end, all is fixed. Anyone that felt their stomachs drop or lost nights of sleep thinking that all of their Daily Value percent declarations were off can rest knowing that it was all just a minor mistake. There are so many label regulations to keep track of, so it is understandable. At Dietary Supplement Experts, we appreciate the FDA’s swift recognition and correction.

If you are interested, the link to the amended FDA Warning Letter is at http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2015/ucm458141.htm. In addition to the above item of interest, this one is very insightful on cGMP issues, misuse of the FDA logo, proper units of measure, and the findings of the FDA analysis of some of the products will make you wonder how those violations were not in the mainstream news.

New Regulations for Dietary Supplement Labels

By Curtis Walcker, M.S.
June 24, 2015

Will Your Supplement Facts Panels Require Changes Soon?

New RegulationsThe final rules resulting from the FDA proposed changes to nutrition labels, including the Supplement Facts panel, will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. January 1, 2018 will be the uniform compliance date, provided that the regulations are issued as expected in 2016.

Although this timeline sounds long, it really is not. Labels will need to be evaluated for needing changes. Current labels will need to be depleted. Changed labels will need new design work and reprinting. Although the changes that will occur can only be speculated on right now based on the proposals, doing an early self-audit can give you a rough estimate of how extensive your changes may be.

Here are five questions you should be asking right now. If you can answer “yes” to one or more for a label, it is possible that it will require changes.

  1. Do you currently declare any of the following?
    • Calories (significant dietary amount)
    • Calories from Fat
    • Total Carbohydrate
    • Other Carbohydrate
    • Sodium
    • Potassium
    • Dietary Fiber
    • Vitamin A
    • Vitamin C
    • Calcium
    • Vitamin D
    • Vitamin E
    • Vitamin K
    • Thiamin
    • Riboflavin
    • Niacin
    • Vitamin B6
    • Folic acid, folate, or folacin
    • Vitamin B12
    • Biotin
    • Pantothenic acid
    • Phosphorus
    • Magnesium
    • Zinc
    • Selenium
    • Copper
    • Manganese
    • Chromium
    • Molybdenum
    • Chloride
    • Choline
  2. Does your product contain sugars that are either added as ingredients during processing or are finished products; this includes sugars (free, mono-, and disaccharides, syrups, naturally-occurring and concentrated sugars isolated from a whole food (e.g., fruit juice concentrates)), or other caloric sweeteners?
  3. Does your label currently not declare vitamin D or potassium, but contain more than 0.4 mcg (16 IU) vitamin D or 5 mg potassium per serving?
  4. Does your label include nutrition information or recommendations for subpopulations such as infants, pregnant or nursing women, or children?
  5. Are you using nutrient content claims or health claims?

Answering “yes” to question #1 will probably result in the most label changes. There is also a possibility that the footnotes and/or formatting could see revisions that could produce much more sweeping changes.

NYAG and FDA Agree

By Curtis Walcker, M.S.
April 21, 2015

LawThe FDA posted a new Warning Letter on their site today. The recipient was Yummy Earth Inc., located in New Jersey. It was instantly interesting because this is the second week in a row that the FDA has cited violations for misusing “healthy” nutrient content claims. This new beginning trend started with last week’s letter to KIND, LLC, which has received a considerable amount of attention in the press.

However, there was another interesting violation cited in the Yummy Earth Warning Letter. The company was making an implied nutrient content claim for the amount of vitamin C contained in their YumEarth Organics organic pops. The FDA went on to explain that the ascorbic acid added to their product was not consistent with the fortification policy in 21 CFR 140.20, which states that the FDA does not consider the fortification of snack foods such as candies appropriate.

In another recent warning letter of sorts, the New York Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to Snap Infusion LLC, in Massachusetts, who markets a vitamin-infused snack called SmartCandy. Although NYAG’s office had multiple serious concerns about this product, 21 CFR 140.20 was again cited. Nutrient content claims were also being made here for several vitamins.

To read the Warning Letter to Yummy Earth Inc:
http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm442130.htm

To read the letter from the NYAG’s Office to Snap Infusion LLC:
https://www.truthinadvertising.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/smartcandy-letter.pdf

To read the fortification policy per 21 CFR 140.20:
http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=104.20