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Beta testing of the dietary supplement finished product registry has now entered its second phase, with CRN planning to make the site live in 2017.
Updated 8:57 a.m. PST, November 1, 2016.
Attendees at the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN; Washington DC) The Conference last week got a first look at the Supplement Online Wellness Library (Supplement OWL), an online finished products registry that’s scheduled to go live in 2017. Developed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL: Northbrook, IL), the “mission-critical, proactive industry self-regulatory initiative” is designed primarily for regulators and retailers to access dietary supplement label information, although consumers will be able to access parts of the registry as well, explained Duffy MacKay, ND, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for CRN.
CRN announced earlier this year it would be working to develop a finished products registry to increase transparency of the supplement industry by offering a one-stop database of full product label information. At CRN's direction, Underwriters Laboratory then developed the Supplement OWL and nine companies began beta-testing the database. And now, CRN is accepting product labels from other finished product manufacturers and marketers as part of the second phase of the beta test.
At The Conference, MacKay explained that while consumers will be able to access many portions of the Supplement OWL, it is designed primarily as tool for regulators and retailers to use when looking for information such as product ingredients and manufacturing locations. With those different functions in mind, the database will have both publicly accessible details and information that is only accessible to certain audiences, such as FDA. It will also be built with two tiers of information that offer manufacturers options on what details they want to share.
In the first tier, which is free to participate in, companies provide full label information, product photos, ingredient lists, and more. That much of tier one will be displayed publicly, but participating companies will also have to provide contact information for packaging and manufacturing facilities of their products. The contact information will be kept out of public view and be accessible only by regulators. All CRN member companies will be required to participate in tier one as a condition of continued membership in CRN, although a deadline for participation has not yet been set, according to MacKay.
Meanwhile, the second tier of information is available for companies looking to provide additional information, such as third-party certifications, documentation of quality practices, and other information that may be of interest to retailers or regulators. A fee will be required for companies looking to participate in tier 2, and each label owner is able to control what audience sees this additional information.
Searching, Live Editing, and More
Pam Walker, head of global market development for UL, also offered a live demonstration of the Supplement OWL at The Conference. In addition to seeing the two tiers in action, Walker took the site’s search function for a spin. Retailers, for instance, can use the OWL to search for products by keyword, brand company, label statements, range of calories, “no sugar” claims, and more.
At this point, the database is relying on manufacturers to input product information when a new product is launched, or removing that information when a product is discontinued, Walker explained. But unlike other databases CRN was considering for the project, the Supplement OWL allows for manufacturers to edit their product entries live. Each entry also comes with an identification number that can be placed on actual product labels to direct consumers or other interested parties online for more information. Manufacturers can even reserve their product number in advance of the OWL entry going live, allowing for the identification number to be used early on in a product’s development process.
A Database with Teeth?
In the future, the database could also be expanded upon to include more aggressive self-regulatory steps, such as testing of products, database monitoring, third-party audits, or other ways to verify the quality and authenticity of products, MacKay explained. He added that CRN’s board of directors felt this step was too complicated for the OWL’s debut, but it could be a discussion industry may want to pick up in the years to come.
“A finished product registry is not the solution to all of our problems, but it provides a solid foundation for transparency,” MacKay said. “It is a tool for which additional self-regulatory features with teeth can be added.”
In the meantime, participation in the database will hopefully establish a “bright line” between the responsible companies and the bad actors selling products with unapproved ingredients masquerading as dietary supplements, MacKay said. FDA should be able to easily identify any products on the registry containing problematic ingredients, and products not on the registry may become less attractive to risk-averse retailers.
MacKay added that CRN will be accepting labels through the end of 2016 and beyond to populate the registry. Then, in 2017, once enough labels are on file and UL and CRN feel the database is sufficiently polished, the Supplement OWL will go live for public access.
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