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We are not sure of the reason, but it seems that every three months or so, a national media outlet weighs in on an old story: tainted nutritional supplements. To be sure, the story will not go away in the sports world. Athletes who test positive for steroids often say they thought they were taking vitamins.

The dietary dangers faced by professional players is a good launching point for a substantive news story. If the pros can be victims, what about the amateurs playing high school and college sports? What are the players’ coaches doing about the dangers of contaminated supplements? Are industry forces and organized sports working together to eliminate the problem? If not, why not?

No, we get a rehash of anecdotes with the same question: Are vitamins safe? So goes the Sept. 7 article in the Wall Street Journal headlined, “What’s Really in Supplements?” with the ominous sub-headline, “Regulators and Physicians Raise Alarms About Dangerous Ingredients in Many Herbal Remedies.” The illustration is scarier; it features demons escaping an opened capsule.

Among the article’s weaknesses:

  • No one at the FDA raises an alarm. One FDA official says consumers should read labels and another says that the agency is doing the best it can to find and ban bad products.
  • Just a few — not the headlined many — herbal remedies are cited as causing problems. The article reaches back five years to a now-banned substance as an example. Why bring up ephedra if product integrity is an issue today?
  • No event gives the article urgency. No one famous has become ill or died from taking a supplement. The most notable recalled product of recent times is Hydroxycut, which gets no mention. The article says that the  FDA will hold hearings this month without giving specifics.
  • The reader service is laudable, but not prominent enough. The first mention of information sources about supplements appears in the fifth paragraph, after the anecdotal lead about a policeman who unwittingly took steroids.
  • Statistical evidence of the prevalence of product contamination devolves into a he-said, she-said between HFL Sports Science and the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

After all of that, the Journal article treads on much of the same ground covered in a May 18 Sports Illustrated article that also fed on fear with the headline, “What you don’t know might kill you.” Where is the news?


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.