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Next steps for the supplement industry? More transparency around testing

Next steps for the supplement industry? More transparency around testing
The fallout from the NYAG's investigation will likely damage public perceptions of supplements, underscoring the need for more transparency in testing labs.

I’ve been talking a lot about the need for transparency in testing labs, and how that could give today’s increasingly educated consumer more confidence in dietary supplement product quality. The New York Attorney General’s dramatic legal action with accompanying well-orchestrated media campaign brought that home, big time.

As one of the top botanical testing labs, I can tell you that we do not see failure rates like the ones outlined by the AG. Industry quality has been getting better year after year. We do still see some quality issues and some adulteration, but most of the herbs the NY AG highlighted in its cease-and-desist letters are not products on the ‘generally adulterated list.’

In my experience, there are two issues at the heart of quality: test methods employed, and value proposition based solely on price.

I’ve always said that to ensure quality, companies need to test, test, test, and then test some more. I guess I should have specified to use testing methods that are validated and fit for purpose, not that the New York Attorney General asked. However this shakes out, and even if the results of this well-publicized testing are ultimately discredited, the damage is done in the minds of consumers, and quite possibly in the minds of Congress.

While the testing methods we use every day have been in use for years, DNA testing is a comparatively new technology. It has the potential to become an important tool in identity testing, particularly when used knowledgably. However, like any test method, in the hands of a technician who does not have a working knowledge of the materials he is dealing with, the results have the potential to be inaccurate. There are said to be limitations in barcode testing due to DNA damage during the extraction process. Also, that method’s inherent inability to reveal quantities indicate it would be inappropriate to use it as a stand-alone test method. However, all this is probably too complicated to explain to consumers.

If anything, this latest and in some ways most damaging round of negative media coverage based upon what my colleagues and I believe will ultimately be shown to be flawed science underscores the need for testing transparency. Companies can no longer afford to just say their products are tested; they are going to have to start revealing where they are tested, by what methods and why.

What next steps will manufacturers need to take to communicate the quality of their products to consumers?

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