Contraband In The Barn

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While humans have the right to freely enjoy the benefits of herbals and neutraceuticals, the same isn’t true for horses. As a matter of fact, according to law, these supplements are illegal for horses and other animals.

Joint nutraceuticals, MSM, herbals and the like could all be gone. Make no mistake: This could happen. Once sales are banned within a state, this means not only in stores but by mail order as well.

If you’ve read Horse Journal, the fact these products are in jeopardy isn’t news. What is news is that things are heating up. The states are being pressured to do something about the sales of these illegal products, and the products simply do not fit into any existing classifications for legal feed ingredients. The simplest solution for states is to say no to their sales.

Says Who'
The major players surrounding legal sales of foods and drugs are Congress, which makes the laws, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which enforces them. When it comes to feed ingredients, however, the actual monitoring and enforcement falls to the state feed-regulatory officials and employees of the state’s Department of Agriculture — folks who have a little more time and interest than the FDA.

There’s a twist, however, that involves a private group with no regulatory or enforcement authority, the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO’s purpose is to provide information regarding federal regulations to state officials and assist in the development of procedures for implementing them. AAFCO also publishes a list of substances that are approved as feed ingredients and helps establish procedures for getting new ingredients approval.

In fairness, AAFCO did establish a task force to look at the problem of animal herbals and nutraceuticals and what could be done about getting them approved. This gave us all high hopes that the issue would soon be settled. But the job before the task force was monumental, evidently too monumental. The project was abandoned (see Horse Journal July 2001), stating “liability” issues and leaving us back at square one.

The FDA’s stand is clear. Dr. William Burkholder, the Food And Drug Administration’s pet-food specialist, stated, “Simply because a substance or product is a low regulatory priority for the FDA does not give license for its sale or use, or imply that criteria for its approval are different from those applied to similar products.”

This is not a hostile statement. It just means that, although the FDA may be too overworked to aggressively go after animal herbals and nutraceuticals — being too busy with higher-impact areas like medications in feeds and prescription drugs — these products are still illegal.

While the FDA is unlikely to get involved except for blatant offenses, it’s likely individual states may. In fact, AAFCO is now encouraging state feed officials to go after unapproved/illegal supplements and remove them from the market. The first step toward this was an Internet “surf day” where state regulatory officials searched the Internet for companies marketing illegal supplements.

In addition, AAFCO President John Breitsman outlined a plan by which states can uniformly apply the existing laws to horse supplements, providing what amounts to form letters for them to use, a first letter as a warning and the second a demand for compliance.

Breitsman is a staunch supporter of removing unapproved supplement ingredients from the market and aggressively pursued violators when he was employed by Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture.

Nick Hartog of Grand Meadows, president of the National Association of Equine Supplement Manufacturers (NAESM), has warned manufacturers that things are heating up and reports that several members identified on the Internet surf day received phone calls from Breitsman.

Supplement manufacturers stand to lose considerable business if these products are removed and should organize efforts to get legislation passed, but to date they have shown little activity in this direction. Perhaps they, too, had high hopes that the AAFCO committees would be able to find a solution. Now that those have disbanded — and AAFCO is strongly pro-enforcement — maybe manufacturers will regroup.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association is geared up, garnering information about some supplements to get them official approval through existing pathways and at the same time investigating getting the DSHEA (see sidebar) extended to include dogs and cats. Contact Gina Valeri, Director of Legislative Affairs and General Council at APPMA (203-532-3600 or email gina@appma.org).

Adding horses to pets on any eventual proposed pet legislation could get the job done. The catch is that horses exist in limbo between pets and livestock/food-producing animals (see editorial). However, the mechanism to protect against contamination of horses intended for meat is already in place. If there is concern about a particular product, the label bears the clear precaution “Not for Use in Horses Intended for Food.”

Bottom Line
The best solution at this point appears to be political. Approval processes and definitions must be changed, and that requires a change in the law. The DSHEA was passed as a result of a huge letter-writing campaign to Congress. Backing this up, of course, were strong lobbying efforts. We need both.

An effective campaign could be mounted by getting horse organizations involved, like the American Horse Council at the website www.horsecouncil.org or 202/296-4031 and the state horse councils. The AHC has represented horse interests in Congress since 1969 and has been instrumental in many important pieces of legislation. Contact the AHC to express your concerns and suggest that horses be included under DSHEA.

Contact your state Department of Agriculture, governor, senators and state representatives and tell them it’s ridiculous that you can consume these products legally but your horses can’t. Let the FDA know how you feel by contacting Sharon Benz, 301-827-6656, or at FDA, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857.

In the short term, the FDA is where the ultimate decision about the fate of these supplements will be made. The more people you contact, the better. Protecting our access to these useful supplements is going to take effort with a letter-writing campaign, organized lobbying efforts and the introduction of a Bill to Congress. The impetus to get this done, as well as the likelihood it will succeed, must come directly from horse owners making their voice heard. Remember, nothing motivates legislators more than knowing votes are at stake. It’s time to get involved.

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Don’t Be Complacent.”
Click here to view ”Hounding The FDA And Congress Paid Off With The DSHEA.”
Click here to view ”Manufacturers: Clean Up Your Act.”