FDA this week said it had written to 23 companies and two foreign individuals warning them to stop selling products fraudulently claiming to prevent and cure cancer.
According to Tracy Taylor, executive director of industry group Natural Products Foundation (NPF), the crack down is evidence that regulatory agencies are acting effectively under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).
The US supplements industry has repeatedly been accused of being unregulated, even after the introduction of DSHEA in 1994, which has been criticized as not succeeding in reigning in the irresponsibly marketed products.
However, the supplement industry's trade groups are at the forefront of efforts to try to clean up the field, and together with their self-regulation they also stand behind efforts by FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regulates product marketing.
"It's important to note from a broader perspective that the fact the FDA, or the FTC, for that matter, can exercise enforcement power is further evidence that the law - the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act - is working," said Taylor.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), another trade group, also applauded FDA's actions.
"This is the kind of thing that shows the power they have under DSHEA," Judy Blatman, CRN senior vice president, communications, told NutraIngredients-USA.com.
The products in the spotlight included teas, tonics, tablets and creams that were sold on the internet. These were being marketed with claims such as "Treats all forms of cancer", "Shrinks malignant tumors", and "Causes cancer cells to commit suicide".
Companies alleged to be making false claims include Vitasalus, Vitapurity, Nutrition 2000, JHS Naturals, H&L Worldwide, and Herbs for Cancer.
The products claimed to help fight cancer contain ingredients such as blood root, shark cartilage, Cat's Claw, a herbal tea called Essiac, and mushroom varieties including Agaricus, Shitake and Reishi.
"Although promotions of bogus cancer 'cures' have always been a problem, the internet has provided a mechanism for them to flourish," said Margaret Glavin, the FDA's commissioner for regulatory affairs.
According to Blatman, however, the internet is not the main concern, and focus needs to remain on responsible marketing in general, backed by scientific substantiation.
"The issue is not the channel of sales. It is separating responsible companies from companies that are breaking the law. The majority of companies use the internet responsibly".
"We were pleased to see that there were some companies that have already responded favorably and have said they will change their language," she said.