USP Labs' Dallas headquarters doesn't actually look much like a laboratory. It's more of a nondescript warehouse in a sea of nondescript warehouses off Stemmons Freeway and Northwest Highway. That's where the company keeps its stock of its bodybuilding supplements for shipping to retailers like GNC or directly through its website.
One of its most popular products -- NBC's Rock Center described its following as "cult-like" -- was Jack3d, a pre-workout powder the consumption of which, judging by the marketing, would leave you 1) extremely chiseled and 2) extremely shirtless. The packaging carried the following non-warning:
This product's key ingredients may allow for workout domination in conjunction with proper training and diet. Due to its incredible potency, it's mandatory to follow directions for use and warnings.
But Jack3d does more than boost workouts. It also allegedly kills people, most notably two soldiers who suffered fatal heart attacks during Army workouts after taking the product. That led the Defense Department to ban the product and others containing a compound called dimethylamylamine, or DMAA, from stores on its bases. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration issued a public alert, warning consumers to steer clear of DMAA-containing products after confirming 86 reports of illness and death.
USP Labs produced multiple studies attesting to the efficacy and safety of its products, but the FDA "found the information insufficient to defend the use of DMAA as an ingredient in dietary supplements."
The agency has since been working with supplement companies to get DMAA off the shelves. According to a piece in The New York Times on Tuesday, USP Labs agreed to reformulate Jack3d and another product, OxyElite Pro, to make them DMAA free, which made the FDA happy. Then, it went about selling its remaining inventory of the product as usual, which did not.
"We don't want consumers using the products. We think they present a risk to public health," Daniel Fabricant, the director of the FDA's Division of Dietary Supplement Programs, told the Times. "We will leave no stone unturned to get them out of the marketplace."
And so, on July 2, the company destroyed some $8 million worth of product at a Dallas warehouse. The FDA also reportedly raided from GNC warehouses on the East Coast and seized 3,200 cases of DMAA products.
Not bad for an agency often criticized for its toothlessness, but don't let the victory obscure the fact that the FDA still has remarkably little power over dietary supplements thanks to a 1994 rule exempting the products from pre-market approval. Until that's changed, the federal government will have to wait until folks turn up dead to get products off the shelves.