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Gov. Decries FDA Role in Supplements

Speaking at a fitness event, Schwarzenegger says the government is ineffective.

March 08, 2004|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a seminar for fitness enthusiasts here Sunday that the Food and Drug Administration should not regulate dietary supplements because, "I have very rarely seen the government do anything that was effective."

That statement, greeted by a standing ovation from an audience of bodybuilders, fitness athletes and their fans, came on the final day of the Arnold Fitness Weekend, a three-day fitness convention that the governor co-produces. On the last morning of the event each year, Schwarzenegger conducts the Arnold Training Seminar, an hourlong event with a sort of "State of the Arnold" speech and an extended question-and-answer session.

In response to a question about the FDA's recent decision to ban the weight-loss aid ephedra, Schwarzenegger did not contest the decision but said he was philosophically opposed to government regulation of supplements: "I have always campaigned against the FDA getting involved in food supplements."

The governor went on to say there should be labeling and "a certain standard" for supplement safety but said that if the FDA regulated supplements, "most of the costs of food supplements will go up."

He added, "I have very rarely seen the government do anything that was effective."

The state of California, along with many drugstore chains and professional sports leagues, banned ephedra in September, before the FDA acted and before Schwarzenegger was elected.

The herbal derivative, which is also used to enhance athletic performance, has been blamed for heart attacks, strokes and at least 155 deaths.

A spokesman for the FDA declined to comment Sunday.

Critics of the supplement industry, including Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), have argued that the FDA should be given new powers to regulate supplements. Current federal law, they argue, has loopholes that allow companies to classify harmful drugs as supplements to avoid regulatory scrutiny.

Bruce Silverglade, legal director for the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, called Schwarzenegger's comments Sunday "unfortunate." He said ephedra had avoided scrutiny by being called a supplement until the death of a professional baseball player generated attention that led to the FDA's decision to ban it.

"For an elected official of the stature of the governor of California, it's a naive and simplistic statement," Silverglade said. "He's obviously relying on his previous experience as a bodybuilder rather than his experience as an elected official responsible for public health and fair trade."

The query about ephedra was one of 15 questions Schwarzenegger fielded at the seminar. Most were about his views on fitness training.

He was asked whether he's for or against weight classes in male bodybuilding contests (against), what nagging injuries he has (his left shoulder), why he doesn't do squats anymore (because he gets plenty of leg exercise riding a stationary bicycle), the best age for beginning weight training (13 or 14) and how much water to drink while working out (don't worry about that -- just make sure you train hard, the governor said).

Schwarzenegger told one man who complained of dizziness during workouts to see a doctor and get his heart checked.

Noting that he exercised every day during California's frenetic gubernatorial recall campaign last fall, the governor expressed little patience for people who say they have no time to work out.

"I always say that the day is 24 hours," he said. "If you work hard for 15 hours, there's still nine hours left."

Schwarzenegger departed from the subject of fitness to discuss his successful campaign for Propositions 57 and 58 in last week's California election and to denounce American entertainers and politicians who criticize the United States when overseas.

"Don't go to France, don't go to Berlin and speak bad about America, about the president and about our politicians," he said, adding that people need to become more involved in politics and political organizations. "I think if somebody is dissatisfied with anything that is going on in this country, I always advise them, don't talk about it. Just go out and do something about it."

After his seminar, the governor toured the exhibition hall of the Arnold Fitness Weekend, stopping at two dozen sponsors' booths. The booths promoted such products as stimulants, protein bars, diuretics and items containing androstenedione, a precursor to testosterone. The governor said in an interview Saturday that androstenedione and other products exhibited at the seminar are legal, and thus can be sold.

Schwarzenegger also visited the seminar's fitness and table tennis venues; at the latter, he used a giant paddle to play a few turns.

The governor, who was accompanied by First Lady Maria Shriver and three of their four children, spent part of the afternoon at a local mall he owns before flying back to California on Sunday evening.

"I liked what he had to say about fitness. His answers are so simple and true," said Daniel Juracka, a Czech-born kickboxer visiting from his home in South Carolina. "He's a hero of mine, but I don't care about the political stuff. I'm not sure whether it's a good idea for him."

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