The adulterants program is sponsored jointly by the American Botanical Council, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi.(Hence its somewhat unwieldy formal title, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program.) The program is an international consortium of nonprofit organizations, analytical laboratories, industry members, professional scientists, and others that advises industry, health professionals, and researchers about the various challenges related to adulterated herb and botanical ingredients sold in commerce.
“IADSA is constantly seeking ways in which to improve standards within the global industry and demonstrate that dietary supplements are a category of products that deserve the trust of decision-makers in government. We consider that your program will help us move forward on both these objectives and in time will provide real consumer benefits,” said IADSA executive director Simon Pittman in a letter to Mark Blumenthal, ABC founder and executive director.
“The endorsement of our Program by IADSA signifies not only the global nature of the problem of adulteration in the botanical supply chain, but also represents the concerns of many responsible, forward-thinking members of the herb and dietary supplement industry in 33 countries regarding this significant problem, and their confidence in and cooperation with the educational work we are doing,” said Blumenthal. “IADSA’s involvement constitutes a quantum leap in the Program’s level of activity.”
Growing problem, growing response
ABC’s adulterants program just seems to keep growing as the problems it seeks to address becomes more complex. Botanicals have been identified by the Food and Drug Administration as an area of particular concern within the realm of dietary supplements. Unintentional adulteration as a result of sloppy procurement procedures continues to be a problem and indications are that economic or intentional adulteration is on the rise. Instances abound of ingredients that were in limited supply suddenly becoming widely available after a spike in demand and popularity following mentions of a particular ingredient’s efficacy in the mainstream media. The steepness of those supply curves gives rise to suspicion, especially for certain hard to procure or difficult to manufacture ingredients. What exactly is in that stuff?
And the adulterers have become increasingly sophisticated, spiking certain low grade mixed plant powders with marker chemicals to mimic the test results of high grade extracts, for example. It can be hard for a quality control scientist to pick these instances out if they don’t know what they are looking for.
ABC responded to the growing complexity of the challenges presented by adulteration in hiring Stefan Gafner, PhD, the organization’s first chief scientific officer about a year ago. One Gafner’s first orders of business was to help bolster the adulterant program’s offerings.
“He is going to be the chief technical manager of the adulterants program handling a lot of lab methodologies reviews so that people have access to methods that are suitable and appropriate for detection and identification of adulterants as we publish these out one by one. That is such an important project is that a lot of his initial energy is going to be focused in that area,” said Blumenthal at the time of his hiring.
“IADSA’s endorsement of this Program is a significant development for us, and helps to ensure that we have the prospect of success on an international basis, connecting organizations pursuing similar aims,” Gafner said.
To date, the adulterants program has published five extensively peer-reviewed and referenced articles on the history of adulteration, the adulteration of the herbs black cohosh and skullcap, and adulteration of extracts of bilberry fruit and grapefruit seed.
Endorsements piling up
With the IADSA endorsement, the adulterants program has cemented its position as the industry’s leading resource in this area. In January, The Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research (known by its acronym GA, based on its former German name) the largest international scientific society devoted to medicinal plant research with members from more than 90 countries, endorsed the program. In late 2013 the American Society of Pharmacognosy joined more than 100 other organizations that have endorsed or support the program.