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To understand why Sen. John McCain introduced a bill on dietary supplements, read the press releases. The legislation announced Feb. 3  addresses public safety, but mostly it’s about the reputation and revenue of professional and Olympic sports.

The evidence: McCain says in the release that “a little over a year ago the NFL suspended six players, including two players from one of the teams competing this Sunday, for violating the league’s anti-doping policy.  Several of the players were surprised that they tested positive for a banned substance because they used a dietary supplement they believed to be safe and legal.”

McCain ends the release, “It is my hope that this legislation will ensure that all Americans, including athletes, have all the information necessary to make informed decision when choosing whether to use a dietary supplement, and that the FDA has the ability to remove any harmful dietary supplements from the market.”

What organization was first to endorse the legislation? Major League Baseball. Commissioner Bud Selig issued a statement supporting the bill and MLB.com reported on McCain’s announcement of the legislation.

Next on board: The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which issued a press release with an affiliated group, Supplement Safety Now. Its members include Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA, NHL, PGA, NCAA and other national sports organizations. All are powerful organizations inside and outside Washington. And they share a complaint: Their athletes have been unwitting victims of mislabeled supplements that caused disqualifications and suspensions.

In other words, the products were bad for business. The groups want to arm the FDA with the data to monitor supplements and the power to yank immediately the detrimental ones off the shelf. They found an ally in McCain, whose 2008 presidential campaign received substantial financial support from athletes and others in pro sports, ESPN reports.

The initial response from groups representing supplement makers and marketers was tepid. “Though we have not yet examined this bill completely, it places new burdens on dietary supplements that are not required for any other class of food,” Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association said the third paragraph of a press release.

The last sentence of the third paragraph of a press release from the Council for Responsible Nutrition quotes CEO Steve Mister as saying, “The best way to help consumers is through collaborative efforts with industry, government and other stakeholders, such as USADA, to implement the current laws, to provide more resources and funding to FDA, and to pass the food safety bill, which already includes many of these provisions.”

As the bill moves from the headlines to the sidelines, look for an intense lobbying effort by sports organizations. Supplement-related scandals have hurt their reputations and wallets. They see a solution in increased federal action and will push hard for that.


Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.