Guest article

AHPA celebrates regulatory victories during year that tested industry's resilience

By By Michael McGuffin, President, American Herbal Products Association (AHPA)

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - Eugenio Marongiu
©Getty Images - Eugenio Marongiu

Related tags: Dietary supplement companies, Dietary supplement industry, regulations

As the 24th month of 2020 (or so it feels) comes to a close – the herbal and natural products industry continues to adapt to challenges brought on by the global pandemic and move our industry forward. From regulatory progress made virtually to creative ways to stay connected to families, friends and colleagues near and far, we have seen many developments in 2021 that underscore the resilience of our herbal community.

Regulatory victories 

At the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), regulatory advocacy on behalf of our members and the herbal products industry at large takes many forms, pandemic or not. 

Take, for instance, the delay in Lacey Act Phase VI enforcement announced in June 2021 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Products that fall under Lacey Act import declaration requirements have to disclose source information that is not always known to importers, including country of harvest, at the time of import. When initially proposed in March 2020, Phase VI included the harmonized tariff schedule (HTS) code for essential oils of “other” – a broad category containing a large number of products. 

Moved to action, AHPA organized several other trade associations and reached out to APHIS to voice concerns that such a category was overly broad, potentially including over a hundred essential oils, and would be burdensome for the industry with no commensurate environmental or regulatory benefit. In response to this organized industry input, APHIS agreed to postpone implementation for the “other” essential oil category by removing this expansive HTS class from the next phase of Lacey Act import declaration implementations. 

Another such regulatory victory was scored when AHPA and others were successful in challenging a trademark filed for the word “herbalist.” A registration application to claim this mark was submitted by a company that provides demo services in the alcoholic beverage industry with in-store samples of adult beverages. In response, prominent U.S. herbalists contacted AHPA, the American Botanical Council (ABC), and the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) with a request to join them in “keeping ‘herbalist’ trademark free.” 

Over the course of more than a year, AHPA led a coordinated effort among several stakeholders with longstanding engagement with and commitment to herbs and herbalism to prevent consumer confusion over the word “herbalist” by opposing the use of the term as a trademark by an entity not associated with herbalists. The outcome? The trademark registration application was withdrawn in August 2021. 

Cultivating community 

In addition to securing regulatory gains, our industry has adapted to keep human connection alive in our second year of working remotely and social distancing. 

Between travel restrictions and understandable reluctance to in-person contact, AHPA was challenged with how to deliver traditionally in-person events during a pandemic. A year ago, we had no idea how to host virtual and hybrid events, but we listened to our members. In 2021, we hosted our fully virtual 9th annual Botanical Congress and hybrid inaugural Congress on Immune Supplements, with an emphasis on meaningful inclusion of those participating virtually. 

Still, as clear as we were able to look and sound on our webcams, in-person interaction has been sorely missed. Fortunately, from this gap came creative approaches to meeting up, as exemplified by our friends behind What’s Up with Supps, a networking group founded during the pandemic to serve the dietary supplement and natural products industry. By hosting networking events in conjunction with conferences and tradeshows (reducing travel) and in venues that are spacious (and often outdoors), What’s Up with Supps has created opportunities for attendees to socially distance and be together at the same time. 

Sense of community has also been strengthened by celebrating diversity. In 2021, AHPA presented our first-ever Diversity & Inclusion Award to Naturade. This award recognized Naturade’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality both in the industry and broader society, through such work as Naturade’s efforts to make healthy and nutritious food available to all, regardless of income or grocery store access. AHPA’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee was formed to identify and implement strategies to ensure AHPA and the broader herbal industry is inclusive and representative of the many cultures and people that have passed the value of herbs and herbal products down to us today. 

Cooperation, another function of community, has too endured to benefit our industry. In 2021, AHPA met with the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), and Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) for the 100th meeting since January 2011 of trade organizations representing dietary supplements. This monthly meeting facilitates regular communication among AHPA and the other participating trade associations and creates opportunities to align all of our efforts to improve the dietary supplement industry as a whole. 

Tradition of self regulation 

While many new practices have been implemented since the pandemic began, at AHPA, we have also continued to promote longstanding traditions, such as that of self-regulation. 

In November 2021, and in keeping with AHPA’s mission to promote the responsible commerce of herbal products and ensure that consumers have informed access to a wide variety of safe herbal goods, AHPA’s Board of Trustees established a new trade requirement on the marketing of dietary supplements identified as organic. The trade requirement is as follows: “Dietary supplements marketed in the United States and sold, labeled, or represented with use of the term ‘organic’ are produced and handled in compliance with the USDA National Organic Program (NOP).” 

Through this action, AHPA’s board clearly expressed its support for protecting the “organic” brand for all foods, including dietary supplements, which federal law defines as a subcategory of food for virtually all purposes. Board-adopted trade requirements serve as amendments to the AHPA Code of Ethics, and conformity to each trade requirement is a condition of membership. By aligning AHPA’s trade requirements with USDA’s NOP regulations, use of the term “organic” stands to be more consistent across the industry and less confusing for consumers. 

AHPA’s historical embrace of self-regulation initiatives goes back to 1988, when we adopted our first- ever (and still-standing) trade requirement, prohibiting trade in wild-harvested lady’s slippers and encouraging research on Cypripedium ​species to conserve these disappearing medicinal plants. AHPA’s lady’s slipper policy is a self-regulation success story, as wild plants in the genus were swiftly and almost entirely removed from the commercial supply chain, and could serve a model should other herbs in high-demand during the pandemic become threatened. 

Looking forward 

In all, 2021 was another pandemic year of firsts and lessons learned. 

In 2022, AHPA will celebrate 40 years of advocating for our members and ensuring consumer access to safe herbal products. Though much has changed in four decades, as an industry, we must remain vigilant in order to support the responsible commerce of herbal and natural products through the pandemic and beyond. On matters that look to take center stage in the year ahead, such as mandatory product listing, we owe it to our families, friends and neighbors to present all concerns and evaluate whether such potentially burdensome and redundant regulation is necessary...more on that to come. 

On behalf of the AHPA team, happy holidays to all.

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