An Indian distributor’s claim that “Transfer factor”, a product of 4Life Research USA Llc., cures lethal ailments such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, (Mint, 3 March) should surely ring an alarm bell for the country’s lawmakers.
If such tall claims go unregulated, a large number of unaware individuals seeking succour from diseases that scientists are still trying to secure the world from, could fall prey to the promises in such misleading promotions.
Similar claims, of course, are not something new to India. The Transfer factor case shows how multi-level marketing is being used to flout lax laws. But there is a larger issue: Unchecked promotion of a “wonder drug” by what can be at the very least termed an over-exaggeration of benefits has been possible precisely because it cannot be regulated as a typical drug with standard connotations of trials and efficacy.
The story reflects the problems of regulation when there is a blurring of boundaries between drugs and dietary supplements with the latter now part of a growing and significant market?termed?“nutraceuticals”. As consumer demand for wellness products is increasing and nutraceuticals offer a wide range of promises of beauty as well as vitality and immunity. But where is the onus and the ability to ensure the products’s claims are authenticated? The Drugs and Magic Remedies Act of 1955 has rarely been used— given the multitudes of products still seen claiming to enhance physical attributes and capabilities; “reduce cholesterol” or treat arthritis, cancer, et al.
A recently passed law does cover some issues related to claims about and promotion of “food for special dietary uses or functional foods or nutraceuticals...” This is the Food Safety and Standards Bill, 2006, which provides for more stringent penalties than ever before, and is to be implemented by a Food Safety and Standards Authority set up under this law. But it’s two years since it was passed— clearly there’s little action.
We also have a doubt: Is a food authority capable of evaluating what are more like “clinical” claims than?diet?benefits? The law says it will set up scientific panels and working groups. What is to ensure the regulation won’t simply get lost in a procedural maze?
(Do we need a special law for nutraceuticals? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org)