Editorial: The Industry - Perspectives from 30,000 feet

By Len Monheit

Every Friday morning, (actually the process starts Thursday afternoon at about 4), I sit down to compose the weekly editorial. Despite my best intentions, I never have them queued, although personally I do like the flexibility of writing ‘off the cuff’ and being able to comment on current news and events.

Composing a piece like this on a weekly basis, is usually not too much of a challenge – those of you who know me know that I’m never too far from my soapbox. The real difficulty is in finding a topic that is relevant to a broad audience, and that is actually an industry challenge. In our NPIcenter environment, we seek to reach a global audience with an interest in natural and nutritional products, covering supplements, natural health products, functional food and beverages and natural personal care. Our audience might be US-based and focused on dietary supplements and DSHEA, it might be Asian-based and focused on North American or even Asian market dynamics, it might be Canadian-based and focused on Natural Health Products compliance.

This makes it extremely difficult to identify a topic of relevance to the wide audience, but also underscores that even at a more regional level, it is impractical to accurately define (and yes, limit the scope of) the industry. No wonder then that an industry consensus on a national, regional or global basis is impractical. No wonder then that some of the most vehement arguments about laws, policies and practices come not from outside the ‘industry’ but are internal battles, some fueled with more than 25 years of history and beliefs.

When returning from Expo or a similar event, I cannot help but be struck by the history and evolution of the ‘industry’. My own experiences are so recent against the backdrop and legacy, yet it is obvious that the passion, commitment, color and character serve to connect the present to the past and one cannot help but fast forward to attempt to envision the future. And these same four elements (passion, commitment, color, character) will remain as driving energies to influence our future. And that’s as it should be. As certain interests diverge (as they undoubtedly will), will our fundamental values as an industry be maintained? If not, how will this manifest at events such as Expo and in dialogue with regulators? If so, how do we position diverging views while respecting the core values?

As a sector (or even sectors), w e are in a process of continual transition and maturing. As this occurs, the expectations others have of us and that we have for ourselves must continue to rise. This provides us with an opportunity to be responsible solution providers, but also presents us with the risk of not meeting the call for responsibility.

I started this piece by talking about the construction of this column and an attempt to step back to several thousands of feet and from time to time, a global perspective.

As a group and individually, it’s something we all need to do from time to time. With the pace of information exchange increasing daily, with trade relationships and partnerships expanding globally, with legislators and regulators getting the same news and perspectives from around the world as we do – new forces, pressures, issues and perspectives are being brought to bear on this ‘industry’, and it is incumbent on us to at least consider them as we plan for the future we propose to create. Or we can choose not to participate and that means a head down approach to maintain the status quo. That too is a choice and as such, comes with accountability for the action, or in this case, inaction.

In the United States, we’re soon to have new Serious AER legislation and hopefully in upcoming months, new GMPs. In Canada, frustration at the backlog in product approvals is escalating and pressure on the foods directorate to adopt a reasonable policy and approach to functional foods is intensifying. In Europe, EU legislation is under discussion with perspectives across a wide spectrum being expressed, in Australia and New Zealand, the discussion (debate) over harmonization of regulation continues.

How we manage the changing environment in the next few years will have a significant impact on future growth and success opportunities for our industry. We can map the entire forest, or we can sit in our own nest and speculate – it is our choice. One thing is certain though, the forest will evolve around us.

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