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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Following the New York Attorney General investigation and subsequent negative media attention, the dietary supplement industry is taking the right road.
Over a year ago, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation of herbal dietary supplements took the industry by surprise and alarm. On the industry’s side, what followed was a year of vigilance and discussion about how the industry stands at a crossroads: show critics and regulators that the industry is serious about committing to quality and transparency, or risk further bad press and eroding consumer trust. From what I’ve seen, the industry is taking the right road.
Take DNA testing, the technology on which Schneiderman’s investigation hinged. While acknowledging that DNA testing can, if properly applied, be a valuable tool in quality assurance, industry leaders pointed out that, in Schneiderman’s case, traditional DNA test methods were likely not fit for his purpose of testing finished, highly processed herbal extracts. Fast-forward to 2016, and industry leaders are actively helping to hone next-level DNA test methods that can handle more complex product profiles so that the supplements industry can embrace this important technology in a more meaningful way. NSF AuthenTechnologies, one of the leaders in this space, talks about one of these next-level DNA tests here.
Quality-control discussions don’t stop at product testing; they include all cogs of the QC wheel. So it was notable when one of the industry’s biggest giants, GNC, announced this past February that it is implementing a sweeping set of mandatory Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) requirements for all of its ingredient suppliers. Neither GNC, nor its ingredient suppliers, had to do this because ingredient suppliers are not beholden to FDA’s GMP rule for dietary supplements. But by taking this industry-leading step, GNC’s actions could inspire other firms, big and small, to take a second look at their own supply chain practices.
There have been other actions to indicate that the industry realizes it needs to take concrete steps to show that it is improving attention to quality and transparency. The examples go on, including the development of a new dietary supplement product registry being led by industry association The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). With the Supplement Online Wellness Library (Supplement OWL) now in beta-testing among a handful of leading companies, CRN’s president and CEO, Steve Mister, said, “The product registry is a potential game-changer for our industry” because it will make more information about the supplements in the market more widely available to both regulators and consumers, including product labels for each product, brand name, ingredients, allergen statements, number of servings, and more.
Another measure of how industry intends to move forward will be how it responds to FDA’s revised new dietary ingredient (NDI) draft guidance. When I spoke to Mister back in August, he said that, from what he had seen, FDA and the industry are trying to move closer together on developing appropriate regulations for the supplements industry.
“The industry is evolving and trying to be more accountable to its consumer, and it’s nice to see, at the same time, that the agency is also trying to be more transparent with the industry by giving us this guidance that lets us see how they interpret the law,” he said. “I think both of these efforts signal a maturity going on within the market.” (Read Mister’s byline here.)
There is no finish line when it comes to quality control because there is always room to improve, to grow. It appears many are focused on the latter now. All eyes will be on the supplements industry as it takes the next big leap into the future of quality control, one that hopefully brings consumers greater peace of mind.