I hope that 2017 will be remembered as the year the Supplement OWL, the dietary supplement online product registry, took off. After several years of various sectors in the industry contemplating the creation of a supplement label database, CRN’s Board took the initiative last year and directed us to move forward with a voluntary registry of supplements. So, after months of conceptualizing how the registry would work, finding a technology partner in UL, developing a pilot project, and even creating a name for it, the Supplement OWL was launched in April.
Hopefully, most of the industry is familiar with the project by now, from our extensive OWL advertising, the appearances of live owls at conferences, and our mascot owl at trade shows. We’ve certainly had a positive response so far, and, by the end of December, we expect to have almost 9,000 labels in the registry.
We still have a long way to go, but the Supplement OWL is helping to finally answer questions about the breadth and accountability of the supplement marketplace. Regulators can determine what companies make which brands, and what ingredients are in those products. As I have met with many of the larger retailers of our products, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive: this registry promises to become a new benchmark of transparency for dietary supplements among regulators, retailers, and consumers.
But this year will be remembered for new threats to the industry, too. The Amarin complaint before the International Trade Commission threatened to remove esterified fish oils—one of the most popular supplement ingredients—from the market. Amarin asked the ITC to declare esterified fish oil a drug and prohibit its importation for use in supplements. Fortunately, the FDA saw this as both an end-run around its own authority to interpret the law and as a backdoor attempt to seek a private right of action by Amarin when none is allowed in the law. A strong submission by FDA helped persuade the ITC to reject the complaint, but as we begin the New Year, Amarin has appealed that decision, and is seeking to reinstitute the case. Just as CRN took a proactive role in the original case, filing two separate briefs with the ITC and exerting political pressure on both the FDA and ITC, we will continue to defend ingredient suppliers and the omega-3 supplement market in these new proceedings.
Further, instances of overreach by the FTC and several state attorneys general have been turned back by the courts, and CRN was pleased to provide amicus briefs in some of these cases. Despite the discord in Congress, legislation has been introduced to allow recipients of SNAP benefits to use their food allowances to purchase a multivitamin if they choose. The newest examples of illegal spiking dietary supplements are with ingredients called SARMs, and CRN is fighting back with both consumer education and legislation to give DEA new tools to fight these illicit products.
So, I’m buoyant and optimistic as we enter 2018. Even as the Trump administration loosens some of the regulatory burdens, the industry is seizing opportunities to demonstrate responsibility and a commitment to our consumers, even when the heat isn’t on. In 2018, I expect these voluntary initiatives to continue to grow. After all, a song from Hamilton reminds us that history has its eyes on us, and we’re not gonna miss this shot!