A whole lot of heart at NASC

A whole lot of heart at NASC


If you’d like to see a grown man cry, I’ve got two options for you.

Number one, go to the opera. Vibrato really seems to wrench out those manly tears. Not an express recommendation, though; opera is silly. Bewailing one’s misery in song is best left to blues singers.

Number two, catch Bill Bookout, president of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), trying to introduce a topic about which he cares most passionately, the health and well-being of our animal companions.

I’m in San Diego for NASC’s annual members’ conference, wherein suppliers and vendors in the animal nutrition industry gather to garner information on regulatory developments, safety concerns, and labeling requirements.

The conference kicked off with a presentation Wednesday by Jim Gorant, Sports Illustrated editor and author of The Lost Dogs, a story of the rehabilitation of the dogs rescued from NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s dog-fighting kennels. Bookout immediately choked up when it came time to introduce Gorant, as he was visibly moved thinking of the dogs’ story of triumph and recovery. Several private owners and pet organizations took care of the dogs following their seizure from the government, bringing them back from a terrifying experience. Some recoveries were so remarkable, Gorant said, that six or seven of the rehabilitated dogs are now certified therapy animals.

The message I took from Gorant was the need to do away with the mantra of “they’re just dogs” or “they’re just pets.” Seems to me the very existence of a booming animal supplement industry goes to show that our pets are not just pets.

Good to know that NASC’s leadership has its heart in the right place, because the U.S. government certainly doesn’t, at least when it comes to regulating animal supplements. The animal nutrition industry—comprising supplements, natural & organic food, functional treats, and natural & organic pet supplies for dogs, cats, horses and other non-feed animals—has certainly come on in the last 10 years, reaching $2.8 billion in U.S. sales in 2008, by NBJ’s last count. (We’ll cover the industry’s 2010 sales in greater depth for our August 2011 Animal Nutrition Industry Overview issue.)

But the industry has grown out of adolescence into a regulatory nowheresville, stuck between the federal jurisdiction of the Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA CVM) and the state-level domain of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Animal supplements were intentionally nixed from DSHEA, so regulatory compliance is a far cry from that required from human dietary supplements. As such, supplements for companion animals can fall into one of two buckets: dosage-form animal feed supplements, as defined under AAFCO, or animal drugs, under FDA CVM. Neither is wholly satisfactory or clearly and consistently defined, leaving many in the industry perplexed.

Enter Bookout and the NASC. The Council, which was formed in 2002, offers education on compliance for members, and works to establish a reasonable and consistent regulatory framework going forward. Members must participate in an adverse event reporting (AER) system, comply with GMPs, follow labeling and claims guidelines, allow NASC reviews and testing of their ingredients, and submit to a NASC facility audit. The organization is careful and diligent, and I’ve learned more about red tape in two days than I ever hope to hear again.

Many of the company people here, especially those trying to enter the U.S. market from Canada, are just as bewildered as I am by the ludicrously convoluted system in place for regulating animal supplements. The education and guidance provided by NASC is thus invaluable, considering that many animal supplement companies are small mom-and-pop organizations. In my mind, from a consumer perspective, having the NASC label on one’s finished product is a valuable distinction, highlighting dedication to compliance and safety.

Bookout’s a passionate man who wears his heart on his sleeve, and he runs a good council. The story goes that trade organizations in other industries, namely human nutrition, could learn a thing or two from the NASC. From what I’ve seen thus far in San Diego, I’d have to agree. Kudos to Bookout and his organization.

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