The decisions the US dietary supplements industry makes over the next three years will determine the long-term direction of the industry, said CRN's Steve Mister, and then challenged companies to 'decide where they stand'.
Speaking to a packed room at the Council for Responsible Nutrition's annual symposium for the dietary supplements industry in Park City, Mister, President & CEO of CRN, told attendees that the "the responsible, mainstream industry, must demonstrate more clearly the differences between 'us' and 'them'.
"There are some who sit in the middle, and hopefully they will move our way, and responsible companies have a role in helping those firms move in our direction."
Best of times, worst of times
Mister told attendees that the industry has enjoyed much success, with the US dietary supplements industry worth a whopping $32bn in 2012, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, with 'enviable' annual growth for 2012 estimated at 7.5%.
"Our own consumer survey, which you will hear more about tomorrow, continues to demonstrate that consumer attitudes toward our products are positive and relatively stable. Despite the bad press, 85% of Americans — including those who don’t take supplements — say they are somewhat or very confident in dietary supplements," he said.
"[In addition,] the dietary supplement industry continues to attract outside investment: Equity capital is flowing into the industry. Large consumer products companies and even pharmaceutical giants are taking notice and some are even doubling down on their investments."
Despite such feel good facts, the industry also faces significant challenges and critics, he said. FDA has issued warning letters, recalls, and seized over 400 products marketed as dietary supplements that, according to FDA, contain undisclosed prescription medicines, anabolic steroids, or illegal drugs.
"Now we know these are not products marketed by CRN members, but the reality is that many consumers don’t know the difference," said Mister. "And when the consumer media report on these incidents, they don’t distinguish between the fringe and the mainstream industries."
The rate of GMP compliance, often cited and FDA and repeated in the mainstream media, was also mentioned by Mister, with stats from the agency suggesting that "less than one in three inspections gets its stamp of approval".
"Many of the companies issued those warning letters are not ones that the mainstream industry has even heard of [...] But one can’t help but wonder if the inspection rates are truly a representative cross-section of the industry, or if FDA is targeting—as it should—those companies that it suspects are most likely to have their heads in the sand.
"But if that’s the case, then the story in the press is not truly reflective of the industry. But in either case, the perception is what matters."
Mister also said that the industry continued to have to deal with negative press reports questioning the efficacy of dietary supplement products, including the recent omega-3 prostate cancer risk. (NutraIngredients-USA published an article authored by Mr Mister to challenge that study's conclusions and the mainstream press reporting of the findings. )
Invest in research!
CRN members and the industry in general needed to recommit to research, he said.
"Rigorous, thoughtful, well-executed research must be the core of every new product we introduce, every claim that we make, and every safety question we answer. Supposition and testimonials are no substitute for research, and as the FTC likes to remind us, 'the plural of anecdote is not data'."
Separating the good from the bad
The CRN President and CEO said that responsible companies must help consumers differentiate the good companies from the bad, and that if the industry cannot "eliminate the tainted products and the shoddy manufacturers, we can at least make it easier to tell who they are".
Solutions to this include increasing the investments in third party certification programs like USP or NSF or other programs, or helping retailers appreciate what’s behind these programs and why they matter. Increased consumer education about third-party seals so customers will understand how to navigate the supplement aisle is also an option, he added.
"We are at a momentous time, and not just because CRN happens to have an anniversary to celebrate," said Mister. "I believe that the decisions we make over the next three years will determine the long-term direction of this industry.
"Will we rise to these challenges? Or will we hope that someone else will do the research? Will we hope that FDA will identify the bad actors on its own? Will we hope that consumers will know how to buy the right products without becoming distrustful of all our products when other fail them?
"Years from now, we will look back at this moment and either applaud the vision and determination of the players of this time, or we will shake our heads and lament the wasted opportunities. I believe the consequences are that grave."
To read the full speech, please click here .