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Schumer seeks crackdown on dietary supplement companies with violations

Sen. Chuck Schumer called on federal agencies to

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on federal agencies to do more to crack down on dietary supplement makers that continue operating after years of being accused of safety and labeling violations. He spoke Thursday outside one of three such Long Island companies. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Federal health agencies displayed lax enforcement in allowing three Long Island dietary supplement companies to continue operating after years of failed inspections, said Sen. Chuck Schumer on Thursday, as he called for reforms to speedily crack down on such firms.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for reforms during a news conference outside the Edgewood plant of ABH Nature's Products, one of the three companies caught distributing allegedly adulterated dietary supplements, while claiming they could treat cancer, heart disease and AIDS.

"How did ... [the companies] get away with constantly violating the law and still continuing to put out their product," Schumer said. "We have to make sure that our supplement industry is rigorously policed so that bad actors don't get away with this."

Under a court consent decree announced Dec. 26, the three companies must destroy all the supplements and drugs within their possession by Jan. 10. The other two companies are ABH Pharma Inc. and Inc., also of Edgewood. They are all owned by Mohammed Jahirul Islam of Flushing, Queens. 

On Thursday, Islam came to the front door of the Edgewood plant and said he has shut down operations and will make sure future products are safe.

"I have to work on it, fix it," Islam said. "I'll make sure the public is safe."

While Schumer praised the Food and Drug Administration for obtaining the consent decree, he said the federal agency took too long. The companies failed federal inspections in 2018, 2016, 2013 and 2012, he said. Inspectors determined the companies failed to comply with safety standards related to the manufacturing, labeling and distribution of their products, he said.

The FDA should do an in-depth review of these companies, he said. Schumer also called for the FDA's parent agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to review its policies and practices to make sure this kind of delay doesn't occur with another company.

An FDA spokesman said Thursday that the agency takes its oversight responsibility seriously. Last year, the FDA announced new efforts to strengthen the regulation of dietary supplements by revamping its regulatory framework to meet the demands of this growing industry.

"One of the FDA’s top goals is ensuring that we achieve the right balance between preserving consumers’ access to lawful supplements, while still upholding our solemn obligation to protect the public from unsafe and unlawful products," the spokesman said in a written statement. He added that the FDA is committed to "holding accountable those actors who are unable or unwilling to comply with the requirements of the law.”

Essentially, the three Edgewood companies had said that their ingredients — including olive oil, garlic, vitamin D, coconut oil and goat weed — should be taken by people with heart conditions, cancer and HIV, Schumer said.

"That's against the law because there's no proof that these things do that," Schumer said. "For instance, garlic. Maybe it does [help]. Maybe it doesn't. But they're not allowed to say it." 

Schumer was joined by Dr. James Tomarken, Suffolk County commissioner of health services.

"This is a really egregious example of a lack of oversight," Tomarken said. They [the federal agencies] are there to protect the public's health and that's why we're concerned."

In addition to placing the public's health at risk, Schumer said the three companies potentially harmed the significant supplement and pharmaceutical industry here on Long Island. He said Long Island has become a national center for such production, and that those industries employ 13,000 people in Nassau and Suffolk counties and provide $293 million in annual wages.

Schumer added: "We like supplements. They're good. They make you healthier. They make you feel better. There's nothing wrong if people want to take them, but it shouldn't be under false pretenses, like they're going to cure heart disease."