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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Q & A with Loren Israelsen on supplements

Loren Israelsen is 20-year veteran of the natural products industry. Here, he shares his insights on the state of the industry and how his own recent health scare has given him a new viewpoint on dietary supplements.

Q: What are the key issues facing the dietary supplements industry today?

A: From my perspective, the hot topics revolve around a couple of axes. Whenever supplements are in the news today, the issues are contamination problems, the presence of unannounced ingredients—especially in products for diabetes, cholesterol and erectile dysfunction—and the infiltration of drug ingredients into dietary supplements.

The barriers to [raw materials] spiking are still quite low, though GMPs will improve that with companies in active compliance. For manufacturers [purchasing raw materials], it’s the difficult problem of "what do I have?”

Q: Does the industry have the ability to successfully test for contaminants and unannounced ingredients?

A: We’re still short on really good testing methods to chase this stuff down. We’ve entered a stage of forensic testing where we have to outthink the other guy—what could he possibly have put in there? I’m really concerned about that, based on my own recent experience at the edge of life and death, when I was given massive amounts of [the blood thinner] heparin. I lay in a hospital bed with IVs filling me with heparin and couldn’t help thinking back to the heparin problems out of China a few years back. For people actively taking supplements to deal with serious or chronic conditions, there’s a hesitation when they reach for things in the aisle. They can’t help wondering, Am I getting the good stuff?

Q: What can the industry do going forward to address these issues?

A: The future growth of our industry is not our ability to get the word out about our products through social networking and the Internet and daily bombardment. It lies in establishing a basis of meaningful credibility with consumers—quality products, claims within reason, safety and a deep understanding of what you’ve got in your product.

As for the regulatory and legislative agenda, the focus on food safety can actually be very helpful for us. I have no fear about legislation for the part of our industry really focused on core principles.

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