Organics: a New Chapter in supplements?

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Related tags: New chapter, Organic food

New Chapter is refocusing industry attention on labeling of organic
supplements after reformulating its multivitamin products to meet
the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) standards for organic
foods, reports Jess Halliday.

The Vermont-based natural foods company, which has its own organic farm in Costa Rica, has reformulated its entire line of multivitamin products (20 in all) using organic ingredients and obtained third party certification from ICS International to support its claim.

President Tom Newmark told that the re-launch was prompted by Organic Trade Association, which threw down the gauntlet to the company to prove that organic multivitamins are possible.

Although dietary supplements are regulated as foods under the 1994 Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act, they are not included under the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act. This means that they are not regulated under the NOP and supplements containing 70 percent or more organic ingredients - the level for food products - may not be labeled as 'USDA certified organic'.

According to New Chapter, its products may bear labels simply stating that they are made with organic ingredients, but Newmark said that this does not really tell the consumer anything, since supplements containing just 1 percent organic ingredients could make the same assertion.

"I don't know of any dietary supplement company, and certainly no vitamin company, that has been certified to a private standard,"​ he said. "If you use the word organic, I am enough of a purist and an organic vigilante to want it to be third party verified."

Newmark is confident that at some stage the USDA will have no choice but to admit that supplements have a place in the NOP. But he does not deceive himself that his company's pioneering step will turn the department's hand. Rather, this will come from policy intervention by the associations like OTA and the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), of which New Chapter is a member.

But he does expect the new products to create waves in the marketplace: "I believe we will redefine the entire dietary supplements industry,"​ he said.

Given that New Chapter's products are currently only sold in natural products stores, however, they will not go head-to-head with non-organic brands in mainstream outlets. And even Newmark admitted that there are restrictions to what organics can deliver.

"There are myriad ingredients and processes that conventional manufacturers can use that New Chapter cannot,"​ he said. "It is extremely challenging to deliver organics that contain the nutrients that non-organics can."

Even so, Newmark said that natural products retailers have reported that consumers have been requesting organic supplements, and he believes that new Chapter's products, which will start appearing on shelves from June 1, will prove popular.

"The organic movement is gaining enormous support. Having an organic option for dietary supplements will resonate with the core consumer in the natural products industry."

A report published in January by the National Marketing Institute stated that sales of packaged organic foods and beverages soared 18 percent in 2004 to reach $10.9 billion -up 18 percent on the previous year.

AHPA has been corresponding with the NOP (the name of the USDA division dealing with the program as well as the program itself) for the past four issues over the issue.

Its latest efforts to garner support for its campaign came in March, when president Michael McGuffin addressed the National Organics Standards Board, following the association's submission of proposed corrections to a draft Scope Document prepared by NOSB's Policy Development Committee to define the remit of the National Organic Program (NOP), the regulations that implement the OFPA.

In this submission, APHA requested that the statement that dietary supplements cannot be included in the National Organic Program be recognized as erroneous and deleted.

In May 2004 AHPA submitted a letter to USDA challenging a National Organic Program (NOP) guidance statement that said dietary supplement products are not part of the NOP and requiring that dietary supplements currently carrying the USDA seal on their labeling or implying compliance with the NOP discontinue those labels by 15 October 2005.

The USDA subsequently withdrew the statement, which had been released in final version without notice and without giving the opportunity for public comment on its content.

Related topics: Regulation

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