Editorial: Total Transparency

September 9, 2010
Jennifer Grebow
Jennifer Grebow

Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.

In September, an article titled “Dangerous Supplements: What You Don’t Know About These 12 Ingredients Could Hurt You” was published in Consumer Reports. It calls out 12 ingredients deemed unsafe by the article’s authors.

 

In September, an article titled “Dangerous Supplements: What You Don’t Know About These 12 Ingredients Could Hurt You” was published in Consumer Reports.It calls out 12 ingredients deemed unsafe by the article’s authors.

Many consumers will have never heard of the ingredients named on the list. In fact, Nutrition Business Journalhas pointed out that they represent a mere 0.2% of the total supplements market. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) says that even news anchor Matt Lauer was quoted as saying on the “Today Show,” “I haven’t heard of most of these things.”

No one wants to trivialize ingredient safety. If valid concerns are out there, most in the industry would say they certainly want to know about it. They’d want consumers armed with that information as well. However, the fact remains that, as AHPA and other industry associations point out, the meta-analysis on which the article is based has numerous holes.

Unfortunately, consumers reading this scare-tactic article may be confused into thinking that some of these more-obscure ingredients in fact represent the supplements industry in a larger fashion. In short, it’s the type of misinformation that further seeks to confuse consumers about the safety and efficacy of this market.

Whenever negative press arises, industry defends itself, stating that laws doexist to regulate the market-namely, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. The contention is that FDA need only receive adequate resources to enforce the law. While industry can never cease driving this point home to its critics, maybe it’s just not enough. Perhaps there are other ways of showing consumers how safe our industry actually can be.

That’s where Gaia Herbs comes in. This summer, the herbal marketer introduced a new, industry-first botanical program called Meet Your Herbs. It seeks to provide consumers with extremely detailed information, not just about herbs in general, but about the exact herbs contained in a Gaia Herbs product a consumer has purchased. (See page 32 of this issue for more information about this program.)

First and foremost, consumers will likely be drawn to Meet Your Herbs for its sheer novelty factor. It’s not often in this industry-or any other-that consumers are able to access information about ingredient safety in this manner. Gaia Herbs also made sure that the tool would be easy and convenient to use. All it requires is that consumers enter a product’s identification code on a website. Customers can even do it from the road using a smart phone. Test a program demo on www.meetyourherbs.com to see for yourself.

The program provides customers with an encyclopedic background of each herb and how it functions and benefits the body-so that consumers don’t have to rely on conflicting or sensationalized information they may receive piecemeal from media.

Although this is useful, Meet Your Herbs does something far more important, however. By providing detailed information about an herb’s safety-how it was validated, extracted, and tested for adulterants-the program teaches consumers about what they should be looking for in terms of safety evidence. It underlines the fact that there is a story behind every herb that gives each product its unique quality identity. Once educated about how products are safety-tested by industry, consumers will know to demand this level of safety-and evidence of safety-in every product they buy going forward.

In my interview, I asked Gaia’s vice president of strategic initiatives, Greg Cumberford, about how he felt a program like Meet Your Herbs could help set an industry standard for quality transparency. He said, “If one U.S. botanical supplement company can do this, why not the entire industry? Such a paradigm shift would greatly increase both consumer and regulatory confidence in premium-quality botanical supplements.”

I tend to agree. Perhaps what might help industry now is putting the evidence where its claims are.

 

Jennifer Kwok

Editor