Sports supplement testing lab HFL has said that it would conduct banned substance testing free of charge if companies agree to have results publicized through trade bodies.
The commitment, made by the group's chief executive Dr David Hall, is a response to industry calls for more transparency.
Hall told NutraIngredients-USA.com today that HFL would offer supplement trade bodies in the US the opportunity to send a number of their members' products for analysis for banned substances. The tests, he said, would be done free of charge on the understanding that the trade bodies would publicize the results, whether they are positive or negative.
UK-based HFL, which tests sports supplements for contamination with banned substances, last year released results revealing that 25 percent of 58 supplement products purchased in the US were contaminated with steroids, while 12 percent were contaminated with stimulants.
The report, conducted on behalf of the supplement testing program Informed Choice, fired the flames of suspicion surrounding sports supplements, which repeatedly bear the brunt of blame when athletes test positive for banned substances.
The findings generated a flurry of media attention, as well as calls from the supplements industry for the names of the contaminated products to be released, in order to clear the names of companies that responsibly develop and market their products.
However, HFL says it cannot reveal this information because of the nature of its business: It works together with supplement companies that wish to have their products tested. If a 'name and shame' strategy were to be adopted, this would discourage firms from seeking testing.
In addition, Hall said that releasing the names of products found to be contaminated would imply that any products not named are clear of contamination - which would be misleading.
Although the supplements industry backs self regulation efforts, there is a general feeling that the sports supplements contamination information released by HFL and Informed Choice lacks transparency.
In response to such calls for transparency Hall suggested that the transparency card also sits with industry.
His invitation to trade groups to send in products for testing could be one way to achieve this.
As Catherine Judkins, business development manager at HFL pointed out, contamination can affect any company that does not have the necessary procedures in place.
There are two main sources of contamination, she said: Contaminated raw material, and cross-contamination on production lines.
Good Manufacturing Practices and regular testing are both necessary in order to minimize risk, she said.
The research undertaken last year tested 58 supplements purchased within the US for steroids and stimulants using LCMS and GCMS technology. The methods were accredited to ISO17025 and the limits of detection were 10ng/g steroids and100ng/g stimulants.
The supplement products that HFL chose were ones the group believed did not undergo regular banned substance testing.
The results indicated that 11.1 percent of the products were contaminated by stimulants, and 25 percent were contaminated by steroids.
As the supplements industry attempts to protect its image and credibility in light of bad publicity, it launched a new campaign last week designed to educate government about the role that supplements play in sports nutrition.
The Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus will communicate such messages and has kicked off a series of meetings being held in cooperation with the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the Natural Products Association (NPA).
The first meeting with key personnel saw more than 70 delegates attending the lunch briefing in Washington DC, where they were informed about some of the truths and misconceptions surrounding the issue.
"We want members of Congress and their staffers to know that dietary supplements are not steroids - nor are they substitutes or replacements for hard work and determination," said Steve Mister, president and chief executive officer of CRN. "But along with rigorous training and healthy diets, supplements are mainstream, safe and effective products that athletes should feel comfortable and confident taking."