Nutraceutical Shopping

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In 2001, a group of animal-supplement manufacturers created the National Animal Supplement Council (http://www.nasc.cc/). You’ve probably seen the NASC label on containers and, if you’ve been a Horse Journal reader for a while, you’ve read about them, too.

The group’s official mission is to provide quality, safe supplements for horses and pets, clearly an important issue. They’re also working with the FDA, CVM (Center for Veterinary Medicine) and AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) to establish regulations for nutraceuticals. However, 16 years after the DSHEA — the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act President Clinton signed into law in 1994 for human supplements — animal products remain basically unregulated.

Early attempts toward regulation began soon after the DSHEA because as word spread about these products helping arthritic horses, horse owners readily opened their wallets. The term ”nutraceutical” became a common barn word, although few people knew what they were feeding or understood that these wonder substances weren’t nutrients, as they weren’t something an animal needed to survive, and they weren’t pharmaceuticals, either, because they hadn’t passed the rigid (and expensive) FDA standards needed to be one. Still, we bought the stuff.

As sales soared, product labels became bolder, claiming therapeutic benefits and using brand names that might make a buyer think it was a pain-reliever or cure. These statements, however, were clear violations of federal law, as only a drug may claim to prevent, treat, cure or mitigate a disease. Plus, competitive and frustrated manufacturers began accusing each other of using misleading labels and not disclosing all ingredients. The result was a bureaucratic mess.

However, there was little most state departments of agriculture could do except become annoyed. Very annoyed. Many considered halting the sale of these products, but that idea resulted in such a huge outcry from consumers that few went through with it. AAFCO eventually calmed everyone down when they formed a subcommittee to establish draft guidelines for these ingredients, but that’s about it.

What does all this mean to you, the consumer' First, you must read labels. If one product is incredibly cheaper than another, look at what it claims to contain. And if you try Product A and it doesn’t work, don’t give up. Go to another manufacturer. NASC members submit to the organization’s auditing system — which has found inadequacies in many member products — so these companies appear to be committed to doing things right. That said, some manufacturing powerhouses, like Nutramax and Life Data Labs, have not joined the NASC, so we certainly won’t discount a product just because it lacks the NASC seal.

Second, take medicinal claims with a grain of salt. Although anyone who’s used these products knows what they can do — and Horse Journal has another large field trial of these products underway — these ingredients are not a ”cure-all.” Be certain you know what you’re trying to do. Your veterinarian should diagnose your horse and help you decide what to use.

Although we use these products confidently, some authority should have attained legal status for them by now. While the NASC’s mission is sound, the continued sale of nutraceuticals for horses remains a question and, 16 years later, that’s ridiculous.

Cynthia Foley
Editor-in-Chief