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True Number of Fake Vitamins in India Unknown, But Likely High

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Mar 7, 2016

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In December 2015, the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) released a report on the Indian nutraceuticals, or health supplements, industry that claimed as much as 60 to 70% of the vitamins manufactured in India were fake. The statistic was widely quoted in the media.

Now, ASSOCHAM is walking back its authorship of the study and refusing to claim any responsibility for the reported figure, despite its own press release referring to the report as a joint effort with RNCOS, a business consulting company. Representatives from the media division of ASSOCHAM claim the association had little to do with gathering information for the study. The actual facts and figures, they said, were researched by RCNOS. However, when questioned about the authenticity of the figure cited in the report, Sandeep Kochhar, deputy director and head of ASSOCHAM health care and pharma division, said the figures were gleaned from the website fitnessrockers.com.

Fitness Rockers, run by blogger Atul Kumar Verma, does indeed cite this statistic in an animated video posted on 25 February 2015. But Verma said he had no idea his guestimate was being used in a study circulated nationwide. He had never been contacted for any kind of verification, he said.

“I merely guessed at the figure,” he said, “by talking to several dealers I know from the grey market. And I wasn’t referring to India’s vitamins, but rather, the protein supplements used in drinks.”

When asked whether ASSOCHAM considered this a responsible source on which to base its study, Kochhar responded: “I’m not answerable to you.”

Answerability is an uphill battle here in India, and however dubious ASSOCHAM’s report turned out to be, it is indicative of a larger problem. In the absence of legitimate figures or nationwide studies at the time of publishing this article, it is difficult to assess just how many spurious vitamins and other supplements may be for sale in the Indian market. Proposals have been made to regulate this process in the domestic market — none have been passed to date.

The supplement industry remains particularly unregulated, said Dr Rao V.S.V. Vadlamudi, president of the Indian Pharmaceutical Association, because authorities tend to be more vigilant about preventing the counterfeiting of life-saving drugs like antibiotics and cancer medication, the use of which would have more serious and far-reaching consequences.

Dr. Rao suggested guarding against counterfeit vitamins and supplement by being conscious consumers.

“Buy a product from an established pharmacist,” he said. “Ensure that when you’re buying your medication, there actually is a pharmacist present in the store. Check expiry dates. Ask for a receipt which has a batch number.”

Sound advice, but when the statistics are as questionable as the products themselves, the end result is India’s vitamin consumers have no sure way of knowing whether the supplements they are purchasing will do them any good. Instead, they are armed only with shrewd tips that make it slightly more likely they’ll get what they need.

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Written By Kamala Thiagarajan

Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the International New York Times, The Reader’s Digest (Indian edition), National Geographic Traveller, American Health & Fitness, Firstpost.com and more. She has written articles on the subjects of health, fitness, gender issues, travel and lifestyle for a global audience and has been published in newspapers and magazines in over ten countries. Visit her virtual home at kamala-thiagarajan.com or follow her @Kamal_t

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