If any of your customers recently have asked whether the supplements you sell are safe, they had fair reason. It’s been another rough couple of weeks—in terms of negative media attention—for the dietary supplement industry.
In late June, the Chicago Tribune ran an article describing extensive violations of good manufacturing practices (GMPs) found by FDA inspectors during the past four years. The article quoted an official as saying, “at least half the industry is failing on its face” with GMP compliance.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) jumped into the fray, sending letters to the three major trade organizations asking how they planned to improve “poor manufacturing” by the industry. And in a rare enforcement action in mid-July, the FDA actually sought an injunction to stop production by a contract manufacturer that had failed to comply after prior warnings.
Natural Foods Merchandiser checked in with some seasoned supplement sellers to see if their customers were ruffled by the news—they weren’t—and to ask what they do to make sure the brands they carry are GMP compliant.
Pat Sardell, who founded Corvallis, Ore.-based Country Vitamins three decades ago and served as director of the board for the Natural Products Association (NPA) for over a decade, says negative news about supplements may raise a few of her customers’ eyebrows, but they’ve heard it before, so tend to regard it with a sense of crying wolf.
“There will always be outliers, people who cut corners,” she said. The FDA needs adequate funding to enforce existing rules on the ground and catch companies in violation, she added, “and either help them correct their faults, or shut them down."
For natural retailers, the bottom line is that “you need to make sure that you know your products are good and safe—that you’re not taking other people’s word on that,” said Jeff Wright, who with his wife Kathy has owned New Port Richey, Fla.-based Wright’s Nutrients for 18 years.
5 questions retailers should ask about GMPs
Here are five tips for making sure the supplement brands you carry are manufactured properly.
1. Regularly re-qualify the companies you carry.
“Just because a manufacturer was good five years ago doesn’t mean they’re as good now,” said Wright. “Do they have the same owners? There have been lots of buyouts.”
As for the most prominent recent buyout—Procter & Gamble’s acquisition of New Chapter—Wright said they are waiting to see if they change how they operate. “If they’re smart, they won’t.”
2. Visit manufacturers in person.
Sarnell said she has taken several facility tours of her private label manufacturer. Go to manufacturers’ open houses when possible, Wright recommends.
3. Ask about GMP certification.
Both the FDA and the NPA do this, said Sarnell. (GMP-certified may soon appear on supplement labels, she said, although there are still questions, especially given labels’ already limited space.) Another key question for manufacturers: Do you make your products or do you contract them?
4. Inquire about trade-group memberships.
"I use the NPA as my filter,” said Sardell. She won’t work with companies that haven’t joined NPA, which offers GMP training as well as pro bono attorney review of advertising and claims, to ensure that its members “produce the right thing and say the right thing about their product.”
Memberships in the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the American Herbal Products Association are also good indicators that a company is an above-board player that has access to ongoing training opportunities.
5. Ask what companies are doing for quality assurance and quality control.
Wright recommends asking the following questions: Do you do QA and QC in-house, or is it done by a third party? Have you audited your suppliers? Have you sent dummy samples to your testing facility to verify that they’re doing the tests properly?
What tips do you use to make sure your supplements are GMP compliant? Share in the comments.