Product claims on packaging can be very misleading. Be sure to do your research before investing in a health or nutritional supplement for your horse!
When you shop health and nutritional supplements for your horse (and yourself), it is very important to pay close attention to product claims on packaging and marketing materials. Marketers understand they have very little time to capture your attention and compel you to buy — maybe a minute or two if you’re comparing products online, and mere seconds at the store shelf. They know the words they use can make or break the sale. Unfortunately, some brands take a “say anything” approach to selling that misleads consumers and casts a negative shadow on the entire supplement industry.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine regulates animal supplements. This agency follows the laws established in the Federal Food Drug & Cosmetic Act regarding product claims; these laws are designed to protect consumers and animals. The good news is that most supplement companies understand and follow these rules and are careful to make credible claims allowed by law. Many of these suppliers are members of the National Animal Supplement Council and have access to succinct labeling guidance that helps them follow the law and avoid making errant or egregious claims.
Horse caretakers should keep a close eye out for suppliers that disregard the rules for claims. They are fairly easy to spot when you know what to look for:
- Words that state or imply the product will treat, prevent, cure or mitigate a disease
Example: “Relieves dry skin, itching and allergies”
- Use of any disease name or reference to a disease
Example: “Protects against laminitis”
- Any reference to a chronic condition
Example: “Combats chronic inflammation and osteoarthritis”
- Any stated or implied comparison to, or replacement for, pharmaceuticals
Example: “Reduces the need for prescription pain medication”
- Disease names disguised as product names
Keep in mind that product and brand marketing are an extension of the label, and are therefore subject to the same rules. Apply the same cautious scrutiny when visiting a product website as you do when looking at the product package. This applies also to internet advertising, social media posts, blogs, e-newsletters and YouTube channels, as well as more traditional advertising like radio, TV and print ads.
Allowable or “good” health product claims are typically simple and concise. They communicate that the product is helping to support normal structure and function of your horse’s body, rather than trying to correct an abnormal condition or disease. And perhaps most importantly, allowable claims don’t rely on absolutes or language that over-promises outcomes:
- “Contains ingredients to support skin health”
- “Helps to promote normal hoof growth”
- “Helps to relieve occasional joint stiffness”
- “Supports normal respiratory health”
Supplements are not magic bullets. If a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so trust your gut. Selecting products with the NASC Quality Seal will help ensure you are buying from suppliers that responsibly produce and market their products within the bounds of the law rather than preying on consumer vulnerabilities in the name of profit.