You know their names. They are quoted in news stories about the latest supplements study, herb discovery and sticky legislative issue. But have you ever wondered what these associations really do? Here's a quick overview.
American Botanical Council
Headquarters: Case Mill Homestead, Austin, Texas
Members: Individual members are primarily academics, practitioners, educators, researchers and consumers. Business and organization members include educational institutions, libraries and commercial businesses with an interest in the herbal products industry.
Mission: To provide education using science-based and traditional information to promote responsible use of herbal medicine—serving the public, researchers, educators, health care professionals, industry and media.
What it does: ABC publishes books, monographs, safety reviews, continuing education materials, searchable online databases and periodicals including HerbalGram, a peer-reviewed quarterly journal; HerbClip, a twice-monthly series of summaries and critical reviews of recently published herbal literature; and HerbalEGram, a monthly electronic publication.
Inside scoop: ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal is crazy about plants. Since becoming a vegetarian 40 years ago as part of an anti-war protest, he devotes upwards of 60 hours a week poring over the latest studies, editing educational materials and staying on top of herbal news. "We're a full-service herbal think tank," he says. "As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, our raison d'etre is to enhance public awareness of the benefits of herbs and plant-based ingredients by honoring traditional uses and reporting on emerging science that supports, and in many ways, confirms, these uses." Blumenthal says retailers benefit from ABC's "huge treasure trove of information," including a database that has been documenting the growth of the herbal movement for the past 20 years. But the real reason for retailers to support ABC is a more altruistic one, Blumenthal says. "In general, it's a good idea to support an organization that creates more public awareness of the value and benefit of herbal medicine and that is helping to clarify a lot of the misinformation about the regulation, safety and ingredients in these products."
Natural Products Association Founded: 1936
Headquarters: Washington, D.C.; seven regional offices in the U.S.; NPA-China, Beijing Members: More than 10,000 natural products retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.
Mission: To advocate for the rights of consumers to have access to products that will maintain and improve their health, and for the rights of retailers and suppliers to sell these products.
What it does: NPA monitors state legislative and regulatory activities and protects members from discretionary enforcement and product seizures. In addition, the association has launched the GrassRoots Action Team, a lobbying effort working at the national and regional level. On the science and regulatory front, NPA operates several programs including the Good Manufacturing Practices Program and the Chinese Raw Materials Purity Program. NPA provides industry and scientific news in its member newsletter and supplemental publications in addition to educational seminars and hands-on workshops.
Inside scoop: When it comes to the natural products industry, NPA Executive Director and CEO David Seckman says, "We're on the front lines here in Washington, D.C., to make sure the laws passed, or not passed, by Congress allow retail stores to sell products, and consumers to have access to products." Covering every aspect of the industry from scientific oversight to quality assurance programs and ongoing communication with members about legislation, business practices and media coverage, NPA is working overtime. And, as a new administration settles into Washington, NPA is gearing up for challenges. "We're going to be working with a new Congress, a new [Food and Drug Administration] commissioner," Seckman says. "We will have our hands full with people trying to change policies." But, he says, this is also a time of opportunity. "We're going to be part of the discussion of health care reform. We can show that there are billions of dollars worth of cost savings when people take supplements." In addition to its work on Capitol Hill, NPA offers everything from business discounts to industry awards. "We're very concerned and very involved," Seckman says.
American Herbal Products Association
Headquarters: Silver Spring, Md.
Members: Growers, importers, processors, marketers and manufacturers of herbs and/or herbal products whose principal place of business is in the U.S. are eligible for full voting membership. Individuals, corporations, partnerships and other legal business organizations not directly engaged in but "serving" the herbal products industry may hold a non-voting membership.
Mission: To promote the responsible commerce of herbal products, to maintain and improve market opportunities for companies that sell herbs, herbal products and other health-related products, and to ensure that consumers continue to enjoy informed access to a wide choice of goods.
What it does: AHPA maintains a lobbyist to interact with members of Congress and actively engages with various federal agencies including the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It also conducts educational, marketing and public relations campaigns as well as providing crisis management assistance to address business or scientific issues that may negatively affect members.
Although retailers are not part of AHPA's core membership, President Michael McGuffin says what it does is still vitally important to those who sell herbal products on even the smallest scale. "We take on issues that are related to product quality and consumer safety, which are key for retailers. It was AHPA that led the decision by the industry to create an obligation by manufacturers, not retailers, to report to the FDA any calls about serious adverse events associated with their products," McGuffin says. "Now retailers can know that, in the event there are serious adverse events, the responsibility rests squarely on the brand that is marketing the product, not the retailer." Though AHPA works mostly with manufacturers, McGuffin—who once ran a small natural foods store himself—sees a need for everyone in the industry to look out for one another. "From the manufacturing side, we love happy retailers," he says.