Is the label telling the truth? The answer to that question will be the focus of two new self-regulatory programs launched by the Natural Products Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the National Products Association that advances public health through research and education about dietary supplements, nutritional foods and related products.
Tracy Taylor, executive director of the foundation, announced what she called "fairly ambitious" programs to ensure industry quality and consumer confidence in the naturals industry during a press conference at the NPA's Las Vegas trade show in July.
The first initiative is the Finished-Product Test Program. The idea is to randomly select as many as 15 popular consumer products each month—ranging from vitamins and minerals to nutrition bars and sports beverages—and determine whether what's on the label matches what's actually in the product. All the results will be published on the foundation's Web site, according to Taylor.
The products will be sent to independent labs for testing using the most scientifically relevant standards, Taylor said. Industry scientific experts will then peer-review the results. The first findings are expected this fall. "What's on the label is what should be in the product, nothing more, nothing less," Taylor said.
Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for NPA, said the program sends a message that the industry won't tolerate dishonest products on store shelves. "It's important that this message come from the industry and not from groups outside the industry," he said. Transparency is a cornerstone of the program, Taylor added.
Bergstrom Nutrition is one of the first companies to sign on as a sponsor to the program. CEO Roma Bergstrom said the company foots the bill for independent third-party testing of its product, a cost that's worth paying to ensure ingredient purity and customer trust. "With tougher restrictions from the [Food and Drug Administration] on ingredient screening, the time is right to support an industrywide initiative like NPA's," she said.
Companies whose product labels don't gel with the lab results for content will have an opportunity to respond to the report, Fabricant said, but added: "We're going to report the results as they stand."
Transparency is also at the core of the foundation's second initiative—the Truth in Advertising Program. The program focuses on educating companies about existing laws and regulations, instituting a new industry pledge for truth in advertising and creating a hotline for reporting questionable claims.
"We're not creating new standards," Taylor said, but trying to "make sure everyone plays by the same rules, and this new program will do that. … There is a lot of industry support for these issues."
She said the foundation will work with manufacturers, retailers, advertisers, publishers and others to ensure products comply with the requirements under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act as it applies to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act. Taylor noted most companies are not willfully flouting the rules. "Some don't know what to put on their labels," she said.
The hotline will actually be a Web page where anyone from consumers to competitors can report advertising claims they believe to be fraudulent, misleading or untruthful. Foundation officials will review the complaints and take action if necessary.
The theme of all these new programs is about increasing trust between the industry, consumers and the government, according to David Taylor, NPA president. "We've developed a trust level on Capitol Hill that as an association we haven't had in 70 years," he said.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 9/p. 24