Editorial: Effort Unnoticed

By Len Monheit

It can be very disillusioning when you work really hard to do something, starting with only the best intentions and getting some excellent results along the way. You complete the project or a part of it and expect to see recognition and reward, and some positive momentum that makes future endeavors easier. Your investment has paid off, you gain goodwill and respect. Sounds logical and reasonable doesn’t it?

Over the last three and a half months industry associations have been working diligently to understand and address the issues surrounding possible kava kava related adverse events coming to light around the globe. The associations have worked closely together and proactively communicated not only with each other, but with the FDA as well, taking initiative and spending money gathering information from sources around the world and even compiling an independent toxicologist’s report to assess the adverse events and known toxicology of kava. This report was presented to the FDA in late February and new information has been gathered and presented from both Europe and North America. As far back as late December and January industry associations began communicating with members and tried to communicate with consumers that caution regarding kava use may be warranted.

The key industry associations were in constant communications with the FDA and met with them on several occasions. They were notified in advance that the FDA was going to issue its consumer advisory and notice to health care professionals which it did March 22nd. They had the opportunity and did provide feedback to the FDA regarding the wording of the advisory, and apparently have done pretty much everything right in handling an important issue for our industry. All of these organizations represented their memberships well.

Despite these efforts, it appears as though there has not been any positive impact on the media from the efforts of the industry, and absolutely no recognition of the proactive steps to ensure safety was not compromised and to get facts established. The toxicologist’s report and the inconsistencies in information about the adverse events cast doubt on the correlation between kava use and liver toxicity yet the media reaction was sensational, and totally ignored most of the details and focused on hype and panic. In fact, some of the media coverage has been ugly.

‘Sensational’ sells, so I don’t think many of us are surprised at the coverage. And according to Michael McGuffin, President of AHPA, an FDA advisory has a lot of media clout, so we shouldn’t be surprised that it got CNN and other media coverage immediately. But wouldn’t it have been nice if the American Botanical Council’s December 20th announcement about new kava safety information had received a bit of attention, or if some of the proactive steps taken by the industry and associations had been noticed and reported on at any time in the last several months.

Since the FDA advisory, industry associations including NNFA have been quite active and while these efforts are extremely valuable with high visibility, the media momentum makes the position defensive rather than proactive. (Perhaps the industry efforts prevented a worse situation and environment and there’s really no way of knowing that.)

It is unfortunate that there was absolutely no acknowledgement, media or public awareness of the industry efforts and resources expended to gather and present information on this issue. It’s also unfortunate that many in the industry itself don’t know the efforts and resources expended on their behalf. Perhaps even an internal and external media and public relations program detailing the process and investigation over the past few months would have been ineffective in countering the hype and backlash.

There’s more work to be done though, more research and more information to be compiled and the associations have accepted the responsibility to lead this effort. It’s going to take money and resources, careful planning and a total industry effort to ensure maximum mileage is obtained, not only for this issue but for all categories of the industry to be successful in the next few years.

For a partial chronology of the events over the past several months, go to NPIcenter.com and from the search window select ‘News Headlines’ and type ‘kava’.

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