Eighteen months after staff was first directed to explore capabilities for a voluntary product registry, the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s Online Wellness Library has opened the click-through gate to the public.
The site went live April 27 and is likely to garner the same mix of applause and shrugs in the industry that has been the standard reaction since it was proposed at a CRN board meeting in October of 2015.
Both the promise and the weaknesses were explored in a spirited discussion at the Practitioner Channel Forum in San Diego, just hours after the registry’s launch.
Duffy MacKay, CRN’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs, spoke about OWL and other issues facing the practitioner brands and was joined in a Q&A session by Washington-based supplements lawyer Todd Harrison.
McKay described the OWL as an obvious first step in building industry-wide transparency. “If you’re not comfortable putting the information on your label online, I just don’t understand it.”
Harrison, however, repeated his charge that the registry is “just window dressing.” Without mandating registration as a condition to sell in the U.S. market or adding quality certification requirements, the OWL does little to nudge less responsible companies toward transparency and high quality, Harrison said.
MacKay told forum attendees that such features were discussed during the OWL’s development, but that CRN leadership elected to go forward with what was feasible and acceptable to members now. The urgency was too great to continue debate indefinitely. “If you want more rigor, you can shoot holes in it,” MacKay said. “If you want less rigor, you can shoot holes in it. “
CRN has described the OWL as a work in progress and that additional features could be worked in later. The platform was built and is operated by Underwriters Laboratory.
Harrison has long advocated mandatory product registration as a tool to raise the barrier to entry in the supplement market—something that could conceivably raise quality standards across the industry—but MacKay answered that continuing to add requirements is a slippery slope toward pre-market approval.
“If you keep shooting holes in it, what you end up with is drug regulation,” MacKay said.
Health Business Strategies consultant Michael Levin, who followed the Harrison/MacKay Q&A with a session on "evidence-based quality," called OWL a "good first step."
“I’m all for transparency, but there are many more steps that we need to take," Levin said.
Ortho Molecular Products President Aaron Bartz, who was also in attendance, agreed that more needs to be done but noted, “if you can’t start somewhere, you don’t get anywhere.”
At launch, OWL contained information on 2,576 products from 51 brands.