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Guest article

Hey Siri, tell me about self-regulation

By Judy Blatman, senior vice president, communications, CRN , 23-Aug-2017
Last updated on 23-Aug-2017 at 18:27 GMT2017-08-23T18:27:52Z

© iStock/Wachiwit
© iStock/Wachiwit

I’m often struck by how much our lives have changed now that smartphones have become such staples in modern society.

How strange is it to think that future generations won’t fully understand what it was like to have to rely on a paper map for directions, consult a phonebook for information on hotels and restaurants, or, quite simply, how a phone used to only be a phone.

Ten years ago, when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, he promised that “this [was] only the beginning.” However, consumers weren’t immediately convinced.

What’s wrong with what we’ve got? Why do we need computers in our pockets when we already have them at our desks? Who really needs this? Phones are just fine as they are.

Critics of this new technology had some valid points, but, as we’ve seen over the past decade, the iPhone has changed the way we communicate, navigate, and learn. As our culture evolves and the wants and needs of consumers shift, Apple recognized that adding a little extra to something that’s already working isn’t always a bad thing.

That’s how I view self-regulation. Sure, some would say we don’t need it: that the laws and regulations already in place are just fine, thank you very much.  But the point is this: we can—and should—always seek to do more. We can always be better. We can always improve. Self-regulation takes industry to the next level, signaling supporters and critics alike that we take pride in our industry, that we care about our consumers.

Steve Jobs said "Apple is going to reinvent the phone"; and I find it reassuring to know that our industry was also forward-thinking in its own way with the introduction of the Supplement OWL.

Launched in April, the dietary supplement product registry known as the Supplement OWL (Online Wellness Library), is the result of frank conversation among industry stakeholders about taking our industry one step further, making it better so it would be sustainable for not only the here and now, but for the next generation of consumers and the next generation of companies. Fortunately, CRN was in a good position to spearhead the project, with the necessary financial resources, leadership skills, and dedicated member companies. However, there was also a strong drive from individual companies and individual thought leaders in this industry, as well as a cooperative spirit from the other trade associations—all of which enabled the Supplement OWL to truly become an industry-wide initiative.  

For years, FDA advised that it wanted a place to view product labels and get a better idea of the size and breadth of the industry, helping the agency identify products on the market and keep bad actors off store shelves and out of consumers’ hands. As an industry, we can all take pride in knowing that our collective initiative for self- regulation produced the Supplement OWL.

Judy Blatman, CRN

A catalyst for change, self-regulatory initiatives such as the Supplement OWL will alter the dialogue surrounding the industry. Combined with adhering to supplement-specific good manufacturing practices (GMPs), self-regulation improves best practices, encourages an open dialogue between companies and regulators, and reminds us that consumer safety is industry’s number one priority.

By participating in the Supplement OWL, companies help the industry as it moves forward, maturing and evolving with new expectations and innovations. Technology, like the iPhone, follows the same pattern—it seems as though every year there’s a new model or OS upgrade that, at first, seems frivolous and unnecessary, requiring users to take a little extra time to get used to—but stifling innovation is no way to progress as a society. Innovation in the supplement industry should be encouraged and well-supported, especially as more and more consumers look to us in search of healthier lifestyles and improved nutritional habits. Self-regulation allows industry to gain trust and perfect its image, and will help ensure burdensome measures and legislation stay off the desks of lawmakers.

Like a new iPhone, the Supplement OWL is not without its bugs—but as more and more companies work with UL to upload their product labels, we’re all able to quickly identify problems and work toward improving processes. As the registry grows and develops, we’re hoping it will become just as much of a household name for regulators and retailers as emojis, Facetime, and everyone’s favorite personal assistant, Siri, are for modern society.

Hey Siri, where can I learn more about the Supplement OWL?

She said she wasn’t sure what I meant, but perhaps a future Siri will have the Supplement OWL as part of her vocabulary. Siri, I’ve heard www.SupplementOWL.org is a great place to start.

About the author: Judy Blatman is senior vice president, communications for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN).