State of the industry I: credibility

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dietary supplement industry, Dietary supplement, Steve mister

Trade association representatives last week discussed top issues
affecting the dietary supplement industry at SupplySide West in Las
Vegas.

In their state-of-the-industry panel, the speakers commented on issues from country of origin labeling to sustainability. In two parts, NutraIngredients-USA will overview some of the questions raised pertaining to the industry's credibility as well as the regulatory issues affecting it. Mark LeDoux, founder, CEO and chairman of Natural Alternatives International moderated the panel of spokespeople from the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the Natural Products Association (NPA). One credibility-related topic discussed was country of origin labeling. The participants on the whole did not support the notion such labeling for dietary supplements, citing it would encourage further criticism of China following recent contamination scandals of consumers products imported from the country. Instead, they said proper testing, regardless of where ingredients originate from, is the key to safety and as such consumer confidence in dietary supplements. "As a general policy, we would oppose country of origin labeling,"​ said CRN president and CEO, Steve Mister. "What consumers want to know is that the products have been tested."​ With regards to negative publicity of any kind in the dietary supplement industry, the association representatives all favor the approach of anticipating what research or news will provoke a mainstream media outcry, and prepare accordingly. In terms of industry credibility in light of cases of false advertising, the speakers commented on the ethical practices of their own organizations, underscoring that they prefer to use persuasion to keep members in line. Mister said CRN has used ethical obstacles to keep companies out, and NPA for one has never actually kicked any members out. "This is a good thing,"​ said David Seckman, NPA executive director and CEO. "But it's the people who aren't in our associations we sometimes wonder about."​ And along the lines of testing, the speakers also commented on issues surrounding validated analytical methods for testing ingredients. These methods are seen as a way to level the playing field for ingredients in the market and in turn convey to consumers the safety of dietary supplements. AHPA's legal counsel, Anthony Young, from the firm Kleinfeld, Kaplan and Becker, opinioned that industry cannot wait for AOAC International's analytical methods for commonly used dietary supplement ingredients to roll out. But, in the meantime, Mister said few companies are willing to share their testing methods because they are worried about giving away potentially propriety information they have invested in. He pointed out however that this is a cost companies will have to assess. "You've got to ask yourself: what's more important​?" said Mister. When questioned on the upcoming adverse events reporting (AER) bill, Seckman responded that when the legislation comes into effect at the end of the year, there will be an initial spike in incidences as reporting increases. However, he said this will then stabilize and eventually have a positive effect on the dietary supplement industry's image. "Then we will see that the baseline numbers will be low consistently,"​ said Seckman. "We will then look to publicize this in industry." ​The trade association speakers also agreed industry still needs to bride the gap with health care professionals, who can play a crucial role in enhancing the perceived efficacy of these products. "We learned with vitamin E a few years ago just how much health care professionals are gate keepers for the consumer,"​ said Mister. Beyond trade association initiatives to educate this sector, Young suggested the dietary supplement industry also approach the profession at an industry level. "Maybe we ought to be going to healthcare trade shows​," he said.

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