'China-free' label stokes import debate

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Dietary supplement

In the ongoing controversy surrounding ingredients derived from
China, one dietary supplement company has taken the bold move to
label its products as "China-free".

Food for Health International has announced it will start labeling boxes for its dietary supplements with a sticker that reads "safe" and "China-free" following highly publicized discoveries of contaminated food imports from China. The move begs the question whether such labeling is in fact a thinly disguised means for domestic producers to muscle out the highly competitive sector of Chinese ingredients, or even whether it is blatant xenophobia. The Orem, Utah-based manufacturer claims this is not its aim, but that it is looking to distinguish itself from synthetic vitamin ingredients, which it says stem mainly from China. Food for Health, which supplies dietary supplements through Internet marketing, says its products are more costly than most vitamin and mineral supplements on the market because they are organic and derived from 'whole foods'. It says 90 percent of vitamin ingredients sold in the US are synthetically derived, but that consumers are not aware of this. But they are increasingly aware of Chinese ingredients contamination scares. "If I just put 'no synthetic' on the label it would not get the message through in the same way as 'China-free',"​ Food for Health president Frank Davis told NutraIngredients-USA. Chinese food and cosmetic imports have been put under a negative spotlight as the result of contamination cases involving products from pet food to toothpaste in recent months. In April, wheat gluten products imported from China for use in pet food were found to have been contaminated with banned chemical melamine and were blamed for the deaths of hundreds of dogs and cats. This uncovered a host of other cases that have left manufacturers who buy ingredients from the country under pressure to demonstrate they are sourcing responsibly, as well as giving those companies who do not source from the country the opportunity to differentiate themselves as 'risk-free'. "I am certainly not trying to wage a war with China,"​ said Davis. "I import materials from China, just not nutritionals." ​ The current challenge with Chinese-derived ingredients has left a no-man's land of confusion somewhere in between the resource-constrained US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and anticipated consumer reaction. "As consumers, all we can do is if it says "made in China', avoid it,"​ Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, told CNBC in a televised interview Friday. In the dietary supplement industry, many companies have been publicizing they source domestically, or have been promoting themselves as sourcing responsibly and as overseeing their entire supply chain. This has in turn created business opportunities for dietary supplement testing bodies to promote their services as third party auditors who can go over a company's international supply chain with a fine tooth comb, as well as test products for contaminants. If companies follow First Health's lead, the fear directed at products sourced from China is not likely to subside. First Health will print stickers on their product boxes that fold over one of the top edges - saying "safe" on the top half of the two-inch sticker, and "China-free/synthetic-free" where it folds over. "We're going to put it on our product within the week,"​ said Davis. The company's mainstay has been a line of products some might say also capitalizes on media driven consumer fears - household emergency food supplies for disasters. It sells these products through major retailers

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