DNA barcoding is still a science project: BI Chief

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

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The dietary supplements industry has done a great job coming together to address raw material supply in the wake of the New York Attorney General’s action, says George Pontiakos, CEO of BI Nutraceuticals.

DNA barcoding technology has rarely been far from the headlines since New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman used it to build cases against a number of retailers of herbal supplements last year​.

As reported by NutraIngredients-USA in 2013​, DNA barcoding offers a lot of potential for botanical testing, and is incredibly reliable, but only when performed on appropriate material.

Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA at the recent IFT Annual Meeting and Expo in Chicago, Pontiakos said: “I think the DNA barcoding technology is way in its infancy. It’s still a science project. You need to have a supplier that has a layered approach that ensures you are providing a good botanical.

“The NY AG used a very interesting technology in the wrong application when he was looking at extracts. Now everyone is running around trying to get an immature process up to speed into commercial availability and it’s just not working. It takes time to develop libraries, it takes time for the software to understand the difference between two species, and we don’t see a lot of labs that are able to manage the commercial breadth of scale that we have.”

“At BI we use a layered approach to ensure that the product is safe, efficacious, spec compliant and not adulterated. You have a supplier that has that. Just going to some broker, dealer, grifter guy and getting a product DNA-ed is not going to provide you with the level of sophistication or comfort than if you have a supplier who has all of the correct infrastructure in place.”

Honest conversation

The NY AG’s action sparked some very proactive initiatives from the industry and Pontiakos was quick to give credit where it was due.

“I think it’s the first time that the industry as a whole has had an honest conversation about how we’re sourcing raw materials,” ​he said. “I have to give credit to GNC and Nature’s Bounty who have been out in the forefront of this. All of the lobby groups in the industry have done a great job coming together and addressing it in a non-parochial way. I think it’s the first that the industry has been aligned correctly to get a common result from a very complex problem.”

But would the industry have got there without the NY AG? “I think the industry was trying to get there,” ​said Pontiakos. “There was a great diversity of opinion about how best to do this. The AG was an accelerant to getting this industry to have this conversation.

“It’s been remarkable what the impact the NY AG has had on the industry, in terms of effectiveness and focus. The amount of interest in terms of quality, surveillance, and sourcing is an order of magnitude more positive that at any other time in the ten years that I’ve been in this market.

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