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Editorial: Banned Substances Certification – The Canadian Solution

By Len Monheit

Earlier this week, Canada’s anti-doping organization, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), announced a partnership with US-based not for profit certification and standards organization NSF International, under which NSF would audit, evaluate and test companies and products to minimize the risk of products from these companies causing an inadvertent doping positive through cross-contamination, poor sourcing practices, poor contract manufacturing controls, and poor quality control. A key underpinning of the collaboration is education, education provided by both NSF International as well as by CCES, with athletes and ultimately, the wider consumer population, as the beneficiaries.

The collaboration builds on the NSF Banned Substances Certification program announced several months ago by Major League Baseball, carries with it the foundation of GMP audits with extra requirements recognizing the risks specific to sports, and in the case of the Canadian marketplace, recognizes the distinct regulations in place in that country, including the fact that companies must have site establishment license, and all natural health products must have a Natural Product Number.

This is certainly not the first program for sports to be developed. In fact, it’s not even the first program that NSF has developed. What’s different here is the collaborative process from which this is the outcome, and the assessment of successes, failures and programs around the globe that has led to this program launch.

As I sat in the audience and listened first to Joseph de Pencier, Director of Ethics and Anti-Doping Services and General Counsel for the CCES, next to Kathleen Jordan, MS, RD, Director of NSF's Athletic Banned Substances Certification Program, and finally to Mike Smith, the president of Athletes Can, the association of national team athletes, I was struck by the fact that what was really on the table was a win/win/win situation. This was further reinforced by comments from government and the athletes themselves, the latter clearly indicating that they recognized the value of certain supplements in their own training and competition regimes. The athletes welcomed a way to sort out products and companies, to find more information, and to use the supplements they required with less anxiety that supplementation might cause them to destroy their careers.

Two things tipped the event over the edge. The first was the interest in the story (media attention was high, and will be even higher when successful products are announced.) The second was the level of interest by the athletes’ community and the types of questions that were being asked. (Current and past Canadian elite athletes in the audience included swimmer Benoit Huot, synchro swimmer Claire Carver-Dias, and hurdler Perdita Felicien) If CCES and NSF can develop and maintain an information and education framework, there is no reason why this system cannot be a model for many other countries, jurisdictions and organizations.

For the past few years, I have been actively involved in creating dialogue and relationships in this area, recognizing the opportunity that industry has to establish credibility with athletes, the sports community and ultimately a widespread base of consumers through a program such as this. This CCEC/NSF program launch is a milestone, yes, but only if companies understand the opportunity offered, and make the commitment necessary to differentiate themselves and demonstrate their commitment to being part of the ‘upper echelon’.

As industry, we’ve debated the concept of self-regulation as one approach to sorting out our industry playing field, largely by calling out the bad players. That’s one way, certainly, while another is to call out and emphasize the ‘good’. We of course have ‘good’ in many categories, measuring sustainable practices, to donations to foundations, not-for-profits and numerous worthy causes. I would like to suggest that we also can obtain ‘good’ by measuring commitment to meet users ‘needs, and responding to consumers needs and wishes, in this case for a means to differentiate between companies with higher versus lower risk.

Ultimately, consumers will make the connection between lower risk to an athlete consumer, and lower risk to be poorly manufactured in general. When this occurs, it is quite obvious that it will translate to higher assurance and presumably a means to effectively sift through the confusion of our current marketplace.

It is certain that Canadian athletes will benefit from this program. It is obvious that CCES gains by responding to athletes needs, and instead of being just the ‘doping cop’, it now adds valuable support and information to the sports community. NSF gains as its programs expand. What is perhaps a bit less obvious is why companies gain. In the Canadian case, this answer emerges from the dialogue and collaboration that has gone on so far. The athletes themselves have been consulted to determine the brands, products and product categories of supplements they use. As these products get certified, use will undoubtedly continue and in fact, expand, presumably, within the sports community, at the expense of products with unknown risk.

Some argue that good companies shouldn’t pay to prove what they already know. The ‘upper echelon’ they argue, already invests more in quality assurance. And in fact, there’s significant truth to this assertion. But in a crowded, confusing marketplace, everybody is yelling that they belong in the upper echelon…..

And the yelling becomes just so much noise.

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