New supplement certification program may mislead consumers

Brightly colored pills

Raimond Klavins -

USP mark does not mean ingredient is safe or effective

U.S. Pharmacopeia’s (USP) new Dietary Supplement Verification Program (DSVP) is confusing and could mislead consumers into thinking the group’s seal means more than it really does, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The USP certification mark, which will begin appearing on at least one brand of dietary supplements later this year, means that USP vouches for the presence, quantity, and purity of a supplement’s ingredients—and not the supplement’s safety or possible benefits. Neither the mark, which says “Dietary Supplement Verified,” nor the accompanying explanation make that distinction clear, says CSPI.

“We applaud USP for trying to help consumers identify high-quality dietary supplements,” said CSPI senior nutritionist David Schardt. “But we are concerned that some consumers will assume that the USP mark means the product is safe and beneficial. USP risks losing its credibility if it is not clear about what is being certified and what is not.”

For instance, says Schardt, if a bottle of ginseng pills bears the new USP seal, it means that USP certifies that the product contains the amount of ginseng listed on the label and that the ingredient is free from contamination. It does not mean that USP has tested and verified that ginseng provides additional energy or that it’s safe.

A second major consumer group, the National Consumers League, expressed a similar concern about the clarity of USP's certification mark. “We hope that USP will go back to the drawing board and design something that will be clearer and convey to consumers that the product has not been tested for safety or efficacy,” said the League’s president, Linda Golodner.