The New York attorney general supplement saga will pass and, when it does, those still standing will stand tall and proud.

Elan Sudberg, CEO

April 8, 2015

3 Min Read
Supplements and the Adversity Advantage

There is a term I learned in college botany class called nastic movements. It is mainly used when talking about plants, to describe a response based on some stimuli. We are all aware of photonastic responses — when a plant will quickly change growth direction to maximize exposure to sunlight. Another example is when, in response to strong winds, a tree will grow and strengthen in the opposite of the wind’s direction to keep from toppling. While many nastic movements are in effort to optimize or maximize some part of the plant, some are simply just to survive. Either way, it ends up being a positive process that enhances or prolongs life.

As humans, we go through something similar called adversity, which shows up randomly throughout our lives, often times disguised in a multitude of ways. If we survive, it renders us stronger from the experience — hip hip hurray [sarcasm...]! It's called the Adversity Advantage, and we all have a story to tell of growing stronger as a result of some hardship.

I file the ongoing New York attorney general saga under this category. Right now we are going through adversity; however, this too shall pass and, when it does, those still standing will stand tall and proud. This adversity will require a crash course on product quality, not only for the industry but also for consumers.

Complicating the matter is the recent “deal” made with one of Schneiderman’s victims. His “get them to roll over and show their underbelly” tactics may well have set a new, misinformed standard that DNA barcoding is the one and only test method for identifying raw ingredients. This is hardly the case. I know for a fact that it is not the only test this victim uses; however, that not-so-insignificant detail is apparently irrelevant.

These guys just don't get it. Here are 3 simple facts for them:

  1. Nearly 75 percent of samples submitted for identity testing to Alkemist Labs are plant extracts, and this is probably representative of the industry as a whole. Every single actual expert on the subject will tell you that DNA barcoding does not work for plant extracts.

  2. FDA’s cGMP rule for dietary supplements requires verifying and stating the identity of the plant part, and DNA barcoding analysis cannot identify plant parts.

  3. Other well-established methods are what true experts use for accuracy; they are “fit for purpose” (the right ones for the job) and have been validated for the purpose of identifying raw ingredients.

This “deal” is as flawed as the NYAG's original herpetological DNA testing on plant extracts. It will not improve product quality and will not solve any problems. In fact, it’s already begun to cause problems. Suddenly we are receiving requests to perform DNA analysis for our customers. Some are asking if every single reference sample in our herbarium of over 10,000 specimens has been DNA barcoded. Overnight, DNA barcode testing has become the gold standard.

But let me state unequivocally that it’s a mistake to take advice on herbal extract testing from the lawyer with political aspirations over the people who do this testing every day. Do, absolutely, test your products; just do the right tests.

We are in for the most challenging time for the industry that we’ve had for many years, but it’s pretty much been inevitable given the wide range of quality. If our response as an industry is to get really serious about product quality, and be completely forthcoming to consumers about how we ensure that quality, we can come through this stronger than ever. Just do the right tests, OK?

Is an industry-led push for better quality and transparency the best next step for supplements?

About the Author(s)

Elan Sudberg

CEO, Alkemist Labs

Élan M. Sudberg is CEO of Alkemist Labs, a passionately committed contract testing laboratory specializing in plant and fungal identity, potency and purity testing for the food, beverage, nutraceutical and psychedelic industries. His favorite part of his job is catching cheaters, and he is known for pushing the industry to continually raise the bar on quality and transparency. Élan holds a degree in chemistry from California State University Long Beach, and he is on the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) board of trustees.

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