Industry remembers pathfinding work of CRN's Dr John Hathcock

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images
Getty Images
The industry has lost one of its pathfinders with the passing last week of John Hathcock, PhD, who retired from the Council for Responsible Nutrition in 2012.

During his 17-year tenure at CRN, Dr Hathcock was instrumental in securing Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status for the trade association in Codex Alimentarius, the first such recognition for the dietary supplement industry. In addition to representing CRN and its member companies at Codex meetings, the organization said Dr Hathcock was renowned for his work in refining the principles of risk assessment as applied to nutrients, his championing that the establishment of RDA-based Upper Levels (ULs) by regulatory bodies is not scientifically appropriate, and his efforts to deter regulation based on non-scientific precautionary principles.

CRN President & CEO Steve Mister observed, “John was the embodiment of CRN's ‘science behind the supplements’ tagline, with his steadfast dedication to the use of risk assessment to establish science-based maximums for nutrients. But John was also the quintessential ‘southern gentleman,’ and his warmth, quick wit and humor touched those fortunate enough to know him personally​."

‘Observed Safe Levels’ set precedent

Hathcock-12
Dr John Hathcock, PhD

Dr. Hathcock's concept of “Observed Safe Levels” preceded any formal recognition by many years. He first came up with the term when authoring CRN’s first edition of the Vitamin & Mineral Safety Book in 1997 (now in its third iteration, as of 2014​). Governments all over the world now use this approach to set science-based maximum safe levels for nutrients in lieu of politically-sourced or randomly derived amounts.

Dr. Hathcock received CRN's Apple Award in 2005; the NBJ Business Achievement Award for Efforts on Behalf of the Industry in 2007; and IADSA's Global Leadership Award in 2013.

"He was the master mentor, and I was the eager student,” ​said Andrew Shao, PhD, CRN’s interim senior vice president, scientific & regulatory affairs. “Our work is still to this day referenced by companies and governments and served as the basis of many IADSA documents and guidelines used throughout the world. I’m so proud to have had the opportunity to work with and be mentored by John.”

Recognition from outside CRN

Recognition of the significance of Dr Hathcock’s work also came from outside the organization.

“John was a genuine legend, helping drive forward the scientific basis for our sector worldwide, always communicating with excitement and passion to scientists, government and to the industry,”​ said Simon Pettman, executive director of IADSA (the International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations). 

“There is no doubt that John changed the world and all of us benefit to some extent from this today,”​ he said.

Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance, said Dr Hathcock’s reputation for openness, honesty and collaboration (so important in the formative stages of IADSA) set an example for all in the industry to follow.

“John embodied the qualities found in a true southern gentleman. He was, without exception, courteous to all and a gifted scientist, who shared his knowledge and contacts freely. He was influential among regulators around the world—who trusted his judgement and advice. These are rare and much-needed virtues these days,” ​Israelsen said.

"I, like many, had the honor and pleasure to work with him from time to time, and I think of him on those moments with fondness. He has left a legacy we should all hope for and aspire to,”​ he added.

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