A number of companies who formed the core of the group’s initial list of members have been working together for a couple of years in a less formal setting known as the Non-GMO Dietary Supplement Working Group, said Bethany Davis, director of regulatory affairs at FoodState, the manufacturer of the MegaFood line of whole food dietary supplements.
“It took a little longer than we expected but now we have a formal group and charter. We had our first formal board meeting last month and we have our next one (today),” Davis told NutraIngredients-USA.
"I believe that we can create positive change in the supplement supply chain, working together to create a more trustworthy supplements industry as a whole,” said Robert Craven, CEO of FoodState, which as a company has led the push to form the group.
"It may be hard to find common approaches but I think we really share the same challenges and uniting on specific standards and test methods will benefit all of our companies and the broader industry," said Jeffrey Brams, general counsel and vice president of science and international at Garden of Life, another of the founding member companies.
Search for a standard
The group mentions fostering “sustainable, independently verifiable and transparent standards across the entire supplement supply chain.” That’s a somewhat amorphous mission statement. More to the point, at least at the start, has been how to deal with the growing demand for non GMO products on the part of consumers. The supply chains for dietary supplements are quite complex compared to most foods, and Davis said it became clear early on the the major certifier in the field, the Non-GMO Project, was evolving in a direction that was going to be unworkable for supplement manufacturers, however earnest they might be in wanting to keep these ingredients out of their products.
“The Non-GMO Project standard does not work for the dietary supplement industry. Our goal has been to create a non-GMO standard specific to dietary supplements. Our hope is that a third party can implement this standard and make it available to the entire industry,” she said.
The Non-GMO Project has increasingly drilled down to the antecedents of ingredients that end up in finished products. That is problematical for dietary supplements on a number of fronts, Davis said. Take the letter vitamins, for example. Almost all of the world supply of vitamin D comes from lanolin from sheep’s wool that is irradiated in large factories in China. Where were those sheep raised and how? What did they feed on? What kind of vaccines and/or antibiotics were administered? These are the type of questions that the Non-GMO Project would want answered, and for every nutrient.
“The project has specifically called out nutrients and required additional documentation around any ingredient that could be called a nutrient. It creates a unique challenge for dietary supplements and not many folks in the industry have been able to get over these hurdles. A lot of the ingredients that are standard in our industry are heavily comingled,” Davis said.
Other components of supplements that could be problematical include gel caps that use bovine gelatin and amino acids that might use duck feathers as a raw material, Davis said.
One question that is frequently raised by outside observers about the dietary supplement industry is the Balkanization of its trade organization representation. Won’t yet another trade group merely add to that cacophony?
“The answer is that when we started doing this we did consider coming under one of the existing organizations. But none of our original members were all members of a single association, so we didn’t want there to be barriers to entry. CRN would have made sense, but CRN membership is expensive. Or maybe the OTA, but not all of our original participants are members or would want to be,” Davis said.
“This group is very strategically focused, and we have not set the dues very high. We are not lobbying, we are not in Washington DC having any of those kinds of interactions. It’s really strategic around how to build quality standards around supply chain transparency and sustainability. We had to be a trade association for legal purposes with articles of incorporation and a charter,” she said.
Among the founding members of the association are: FoodState (MegaFood), New Chapter, Garden of Life, Capsugel, Deerland Enzymes, Rainbow Light, Country Life, RFI, Ethical Naturals, NOW Foods, Natural Factors, Naturex, UAS Labs and Nutralliance.