Natural-ingredients supplier Jiaherb Inc. (Pine Brook, NJ) is now promoting its new HerbaLink chain-of-custody company program designed to provide its clients with traceability and transparency in product identification.
According to Jiaherb president Scott Chen, HerbaLink “not only assures best practices in identifying sustainable and socially conscious sources, but also the implementation of stringent testing methods that include DNA, HPTLC, and HPLC through the processing and preparation of the finished product, documenting every link of the product’s journey from harvest to packaging.”
Chris Oesterheld, Jiaherb’s executive vice president, says that while the company has always performed a full battery of tests to identify ingredient material and “ensured pure and unadulterated extracts,” the firm decided to officially launch HerbaLink to meet growing industry demands for transparency and to provide the traceability information to its clients in an easily digestible, “more concise and clear package.”
This package includes: 1) a botanical-identification report, plus an authenticated reference or botanical voucher of the correct plant species from Jiaherb’s herbarium, 2) a macroscopic identification report describing the physical characteristics of the plant, such as size, shape, color, or texture, as well as organoleptic characteristics like smell and taste, 3) a chemical-identification report detailing methods of analysis by HPTLC, HPLC, or GC, providing both quantitative and qualitative data, and 4) third-party laboratory reports, including, but not limited to, results of identification, assay, microbiology, and heavy-metals testing.
“In the last couple of years, there has been a strong push for more clear and accurate information in the form of documentation, and thus we created an efficient way of presenting all this information in a single packet of documents,” Oesterheld says.
“These documents show each link in the supply chain, from plant to finished powder or extract," Chen adds.
In fact, Oesterheld says, more pressure for transparency and quality assurance, especially in the herbal-products sector, is a boon to companies like Jiaherb, who he says is doing traceability the right way. “The attention of late has been a blessing for Jiaherb,” he says. “It now gives us the competitive edge and opportunity to clearly differentiate ourselves with our manufacturers in an industry that has been polarized for many years.”
As more herbal-ingredient companies like Jiaherb focus attention on quality assurance and transparency, the hope is that some of the public trust that declined in recent years—for instance, following the 2015 New York Attorney General’s investigation of herbal supplements—will trend upwards. Oesterheld says this is happening already. “We believe trust is steadily improving and has the potential to improve at a faster rate if companies that produce finished products are also willing to differentiate themselves in this competitive market,” he says.
Unfortunately, he adds, some botanical-ingredient suppliers in the United States are distributors who may not want or be able to disclose the identity of their ingredient manufacturers. According to Oesterheld, “This is what differentiates Jiaherb from our competitors. We have the ability to be there in the fields or countryside firsthand to confirm, macroscopically, that we are starting with the correct species of crude raw material. Then, in the lab, we confirm identity through HPTLC both for the crude raw material and finished extract powder.”
Herbal-ingredient suppliers continue to face challenges in an increasingly globalized supply chain, making transparency even harder to come by but where ensuring proper ingredient identity in order to prevent adulteration is more important than ever. Oesterheld speaks to that challenge: “The biggest misconception that manufacturers of finished products may or may not fully understand is the fact that the majority of crude raw materials are wildcrafted, and not all come from the same location. Take, for example, a root that grows wild high in the northern mountains of China. The process involved is that various self-employed ‘pickers’ scour the landscape and fill a burlap sack with roots. Then, they go to a local broker who gathers from various pickers, and those brokers are whom a manufacturer of botanicals would purchase from. So, while it is, of course, easier to trace crude materials that are harvested from a specific farm, when dealing with wildcrafted materials, it becomes a true challenge.”