AHPA's Botanical Congress, supported by VIRGO, and held in conjunction with SupplySide Marketplace in New York, featured nine informative sessions on topics ranging from consumer research and branding strategies to international supply issues and sustainability.
James Chamberlain, Ph.D., research forest products technologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, who has conducted numerous studies to determine sustainable wild-harvesting practices for medicinal herbs in America's forests, pointed to timber industry harvesting programs as an example for the harvesting of wild herbs. As it is now, he said, numerous plants are in serious danger of over-harvesting and potential extinction.
"We know how to manage forests for trees, for timber," he said. "(But) long before we had the technology to cut timber, people were out there harvesting plants."
Timber management has been successful in the United States, Chamberlain said, because the Forest Service has more than 100 years of experience in creating sustainable harvesting practices. The same scientific rigor can be applied to herbaceous plants.
Chamberlain said there are three essentials needed to ensure the "perpetual availability" of wild-harvested plants and that a program is needed to assess benchmarks for:
- What comprises sustainable harvests
- Determination of economic value
- Establishment of resource conservation and management
Peggy Binzel of the Podesta Group discussed research and promotion orders, and how such a campaign might benefit the herbal products industry. She referenced several successful promotion campaigns, including "Got Milk?" "Beef: It's What's for Dinner," and "The Incredible Edible Egg."
All of these, and many others, were initiated, she said, by industry, including one under consideration for the organics industry. An industry may petition USDA for a promotion order on its behalf. Several steps are required for consideration: a minimum of two-thirds support from the entire industry, the establishment of a trade board, and other tasks.
"Research and promotion orders have been around for decades," said Binzel. "And essentially they're industry 'self-help.' They let you pool your money to support an advertising campaign. I know you've done PR campaigns in the past. This is not PR, this is advertising. It's about changing your image to the consumer."
There are currently 18 research and promotion orders ranging in revenue from $100 million a year (milk) down to about $600,000 a year (popcorn). Binzel said while the financial benefits resulting from promotion order campaigns can be lucrative, there are several pitfalls. Such campaigns are often controversial, she added, in that whenever any number of businesses are assessed a fee, some will not think the money is being spent properly.
"As a result, this program has been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court three times," she said. "It's essentially a First Amendment argument. Are you being compelled to speak by your money being assessed?"
Additional coverage of the AHPA Botanical Congress will be featured in the June issue of the AHPA Report.