Supplement safety: whose responsibility is it?

Supplement safety: whose responsibility is it?

In a world in which anyone can act as an investigative reporter and go directly to the source, which supplement companies and retailers are ready to provide trusted safety information to consumers? 

Perhaps the most important part of any writer or editor’s job is finding a good “source.” Without trusted, credible sources, your story is nothing, your credibility is lost and you ultimately feel like you have let your readers down.

Turns out, the idea of “sourcing” isn’t just important in the media world. And anyone in the natural products industry can attest to this; honest, pure business practices are the foundation of building a returning customer base, whether that means sourcing unadulterated ingredients or being transparent about your message and mission.

I happen to work at the intersection of the two worlds, where trusted information and ethical practices are top of mind daily—who is doing business the right way and are we, as journalists, doing the best job we can to report this information accurately?

I lingered on this concept more as we built out our recent Supplement Safety program. The impetus was the 20th anniversary of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), but the real goal of the program was to bring information to all of our various readers and to connect these different audiences in the process—the companies that manufacture products, the retailers who sell them, and ultimately the consumers that buy.

On the one hand, access to information may be part of the problem. On the other, the abundance of information makes quality of content the real issue/challenge. Vetting supplements info can be confusing and even scary (read: alarmist mass media and misinterpreted science). And sadly, despite the fact that supplements are regulated (no, really!), there are still “bad players” that give the industry a bad name, whether because they’re using impure ingredients, not using enough of the good stuff or following a range of other poor practices.

New Hope's Supplement Safety program 

Reporting on these topics is very important to New Hope Natural Media. So, for our Supplement Safety program, we connected with brands leading the supplement safety movement—the ones making positive investments in science, education, and more to deliver safe and efficacious products and combat everything from bad press to consumer misperceptions. We also talked to our independent natural retailers who never fail to impress, not only with their passion about health and wellness but also their diligence in stocking safe products. Plus, we tapped the associations uniting brands and retailers in a common cause.

The result of these many conversations and, really, years of New Hope research is what I feel is a rich body of information that will be relevant well beyond DSHEA’s 20th b day. You can view it all here—including a timeline, downloadable guide and infographic. We have done our research to help you understand supplement safety and make better choices: What is responsible sourcing? Which certifications help to ensure purity? What is DSHEA, anyway?

Whether you’re a barely one-a-day kind of person or a supplement devotee, our Supplement Safety Guide will help you further educate yourself on this topic. We also list several online resources in our guide that are important for staying current on the latest regulatory or safety issues, recalls and more.

The consumer responsibility

But, the quest for information shouldn’t stop with what we’ve provided. I know that we often talk about the consumer’s responsibility in all of this yet it's still a difficult concept to grasp. I mean, what does that really translate to when it's so difficult to wade through all of the information out there? With a million (and one) things to do, how much time can the average person dedicate to researching supplements?

My challenge for consumers is this: make like a journalist and go right to the source, whether that’s directly to the manufacturers (send an email, or try Tweeting or Facebooking them) or to a retailer that you trust. Ask about their practices to ensure you are getting the safest products they make or sell. And ask for proof or additional info. Talk to retailers about how they vet their brands and ask what they can tell you about supplement regulations and safety issues. It doesn’t take that long and it can make a huge difference.

And good news for those of you who like your current jobs: you don’t even have to become a journalist to get this information for yourself. 

What this means for industry

Conversely, my challenge for manufacturers is to walk the walk: If you want to combat negative media or prove that you truly do have a quality product, I trust that you’ll respond to every inquiry you receive. Each of our sponsors included personal contact information on the back page of this guide, proof of their commitment. But I believe that all of the best companies will be fully transparent and accessible. It is, after all, our health.

So if you’re not prepared to answer some hard questions, I suggest you reevaluate your practices; the cold hard facts are that these days, everyone is empowered to be their own investigative reporter.


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