Collaboration will make industry stronger, new AHPA science officer says

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Collaboration will make industry stronger, new AHPA science officer says
Increasing collaboration within the herbal industry will drive the sector forward. That’s one of the goals Holly Johnson, PhD, has in her new role as chief science officer of the American Herbal Products Association.

Prior to accepting the role at AHPA, Johnson was the Laboratory Director at Alkemist Labs. Johnson spent a stint at analytical equipment manufacturer Waters and she also was an adjunct professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Johnson did her doctoral work in pharmacognosy and ethnomedicine at the University of Illinois Chicago.

“I spent most of my career in academia doing research on medicinal plants. Now being on the business side, what I’ve really noticed is the industry is now taking quality seriously. There are companies out there that want to do the best job they can and give the best quality ingredients to their clients but are not always clear on how best to do those things,​ Johnson told NutraIngredients-USA.

Major clearinghouse of quality information

Johnson said that in her view AHPA has been one of the major clearinghouses of information on quality within the herbal industry and the dietary supplement sector as a whole. In addition to the organization’s long history of effective advocacy at various levels of government, Johnson pointed to the wealth of guidance documents the organization has produced and has made available to industry.

Those documents include AHPA’s Herbs of Commerce nomenclature guide (now in its third edition), guidance on the manufacture of botanical extracts, advice on how to choose a contract lab, and a database of New Dietary Ingredient submissions. AHPA also has put together a Good Agricultural Collection Practices document, a Botanical ID References Compendium, and has managed the editing and revision of the Botanical GMPs program initiated by GNC as part of its agreement with NYAG Eric Schneiderman.

Johnson said she intends to drive that spirit of collaborative leadership forward in her new role.

“Personally one of my favorite things to do is to build connections to people in industry,”​ she said.

Dirty fingernails

One of the things Johnson said she is particularly looking forward to is to reconnect with the herbal industry at the literal grassroots level. It’s an aspect of the business she had stepped away from during her years in analytical lab work. AHPA has a wide range of members, including companies that are aggregating wildcrafted material and others that are vertically integrated from plant to extract.

“In my role as a researcher I was quite literally out in the field on a Pacific island,” ​Johnson said. “I was one of those people with dirt under their fingernails. I am looking forward to getting to know the people who are growing the plants, from the seeds all the way to the ingredient manufacturer,”​ she said.

Botanical Safety Handbook

Johnson said one of her first responsibilities will be to help update AHPA’s Botanical Safety Handbook. The reference guide has already gone through two editions. This next edition will have a print run, but then will be available online to members thereafter, which means it can be more regularly and easily updated, she said.

“The first edition was a handbook first put out in 1997, by Michael McGuffin, Roy Upton and others. The second edition came out in the early 2000s. This third edition we are working on will primarily be an online resource, but sometime in 2018 we are planning another print run,​ Johnson said.

Whole greater than sum of parts

Efforts such as updating the safety manual require a lot of hands. And in terms of hands, the dietary supplement industry has those aplenty. When one looks at the plethora of membership organizations representing companies and the interests of single ingredients, the question could be asked, can too many cooks spoil the soup? Johnson said she believes that when all of these interests work together, the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.

“I guess ‘collaboration is the summary of my whole feeling about this position. I’m so grateful to Alkemist for putting me in a position to take advantage of this opportunity,​ she said.

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