An Open Letter to the Dietary Supplement Industry Sharing Thoughts and Concerns

Dear Friends, Peers and Colleagues:

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are personal in nature and not representative of any company or organization I have been, or am currently, associated with in the nutraceutical industry.

For 6 to 7 years, our industry has been the recipient of some pretty nasty characterization by the media. The traditional medical community and the mighty pharmaceutical industry are definitely not fans of our world. And, with the recent change in political power in D.C., our regulatory woes are about to take a significant turn for the worse. None of this is “news” to any of us who spend the better part of every day trying to run and build our businesses. Trying to succeed is difficult enough without trying to manage these problems as well.

Unfortunately, these problems do exist and wishing them away is not going to make it happen. The good news is we have “right” on our side. The products we manufacture, distribute and sell help an entire world of people feel better, act better and simply live better. The good products we get into the hands of needy consumers simply improve their quality of life. And, don’t forget, organizations like the “Vitamin Angels” actually save people’s lives from malnutrition. Our industry does some truly awesome, wonderfully good things. I don’t need to be a cheerleader here but I think it is important to remind ourselves of the really good things we are able to accomplish, and therefore what could be lost!

Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if this good work came to an end? Is that possible, really, is it possible it could be taken away from humankind? Unfortunately the answer is yes, it is most definitely possible.

I’ll assume that on some level we all would agree that we have serious problems which need solving. So, let’s spell out what some of the problems are:

Based on the DSEA’s recent findings of published stories about nutraceuticals, the news is dismal. Almost 12,000 stories were published between December 2005 and November 2006 producing almost 2.7 billion reader impressions. Of those impressions, only 23% were positive. The remaining impressions were either neutral (47%) or negative (30%).

What was written about us? Here’s the breakdown:

• Safety – 30.0%

• Efficacy/Benefits – 28.5%

• Quality Control – 20.3%

• Quality of Life – 16.9%

• Health Care Savings – 4.3%

The recent stories published by JAMA, CBS News and the Dan Hurley book “Natural Causes” are doing some serious damage. Regularly published stories about our products not meeting label claims further erode consumer confidence.

So, what are our problems? Here’s how I view them:

  1. We have developed a serious credibility gap with the consumer and it must be reversed as they represent our lifeline for continuity.
  2. We have no industry mechanism to communicate the safety of our products.
  3. We have no industry mechanism to communicate the efficacy of our products.
  4. We have no industry mechanism to eliminate “Black Night Manufacturers.”
  5. We are experiencing professional and consumer concerns about drug interactions (especially associated with herbs).
  6. Professional and amateur concerns exist about sports enhancing supplements.
  7. Federal concerns (FTC) related to weight loss supplements continue.
  8. We have a lobbying coalition that is seriously under funded. (Washington isn’t going to ignore a $20B industry so we have to pony up to the table, meaningfully, to get things done in D.C.)

Whether you agree with this list or would add to it, the fact is that we have some serious problems. The good news is that all of them, yes, every one of them can be fixed. All it will take is:

  1. Time
  2. Money
  3. Commitment

That’s all, he says!

You have to start by believing that what we do is worth while and is in everyone’s best interest. It’s okay for us to make a lot of money. If we do really great things then we will be rewarded accordingly. If we don’t do the right things then we will lose our customer base and the government will regulate us out of business. You can make book on that!

I have spoken with some of the industry’s most important thought leaders and they all agree. We have huge problems to manage. So where do we begin? What do we do first? How do we decide what needs to be accomplished by whom and by when?

Some thought leaders have indicated that until we get our processes and checks and balances in order we should not move into the public eye. Though this idea has merit and I can’t argue with the risk of exposing ourselves to further media castigation, I am reminded of a story I heard many, many years ago. The story goes like this:

“Two little girls were late and running to school before the bell rang. One of the little girls said, let’s stop and pray to God we’re not late. The other little girl said, let’s keep on running and pray to God we’re not late!”

So I submit to you that while we work on these big problems we don’t wait to tell the good news about who we are and what we have to offer. We must begin to do it now and we “ALL” must step up to the bar. We must begin “NOW.”

Okay, so here’s what you can do today. You can step forward to financially support your trade organizations. Quite simply, they need more money to get the things done we need them to do. The dues we pay aren’t enough to reinvent ourselves and solve the problems listed above. We have some incredibly competent people working for us. So, I urge you to contact them immediately to discuss how you can help:

David Seckman, Natural Products Association

Michael McGuffin, American Herbal Products Association

Steve Mister, Council for Responsible Nutrition

Loren Israelson, United Natural Products Alliance

In my view, the DSEA and their “Just Like Me” advertising campaign is a sure bet to help regain some of the lost trust between the consumer and the industry. The DSEA has already raised nearly $1,000,000 towards launching their test advertising campaign. They need $500,000 more to get it started and with a matching dollar-for-dollar commitment from Leiner Health Products every dollar contributed by every company counts as double. No amount is too small and every contribution will help us keep on running while we pray to God we are not too late.

If you want to learn more about this very exciting campaign contact me at [email protected] or Deb Knowles at [email protected]

Finally, I urge all of the trade and industry publications to reprint and circulate this letter. I’m respectfully requesting that all or part of this communication be broadly circulated. It would be in the industry’s best interest if this letter, or a letter like this, were printed in every trade publication, newsletter and e-letter.

I hope those of you who receive this and take the time to read it in its entirety will e-mail it to your own contact list.

“Call To Action”

This message, this call to action, is in the best interest of our companies, our employees, our shareholders (or owners), but most of all, the hundreds of millions of people we will be able to continue to help far into the future. We cannot sit idle. We must take action and the time is now. Each of us needs to take a stand and commit to assist, in any way we can, not only for the benefit of us all but for our mere survival.

I look forward to your comments and ideas.

Elliott Balbert
Nutraceutical Industry Stakeholder

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