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Letter From NBJ: Sometimes There’s No Award

It would certainly be convenient to sum up the last year in supplements with an adage or anecdote that drops appropriate insight into a neatly tied-up package of prose.

Unfortunately, that’s not available. Complexity does not lend itself well to metaphor. There are no classic parables about supply chain integrity and regulation. You’ll never see a sports analogy under my byline.

Parsing last year’s events from the vantage of today lends perspective but not always clarity, certainly not simplicity. 

Between the Feb. 3 headlines revealing the New York attorney general’s allegation that herbal supplements at major retailers failed to meet ingredient label claims and the December announcement of an “Office” of dietary supplements in the Food and Drug Administration, history seemed at times compressed—a lot of challenge and change squeezed into not so many months.

In those first weeks of February, the industry looked both a victim and a scoundrel. Different voices could sound jarringly out of key.

But by the end of the year, I began to see an industry shrugging off its victim label and shouldering into a kind of responsibility that had been long needed but consistently neglected.

When I saw NBJ Summit attendees, by an overwhelming percentage, raise their hands in support of pre-market notification, it looked like an industry ready to take steps it had railed against for so long. When leaders from the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the American Herbal Products Association joined the United Natural Products Alliance in Salt Lake City for a supply chain summit last month, it sounded like some of the political hamstrings had been untied.

When I heard CRN’s product registry described in the present tense at Expo West two weeks ago, despite being months from deployment, it seemed like an acceptance that times had changed and the industry stood to change with it.

Those are things to celebrate. Willingness to confront change with changes in behavior is an aspect of maturity that supplement makers didn’t always possess. I’ve made no secret of my cynical newspaperman background, but when the darkest allegations were made, the better spirit of the industry stepped forward, not necessarily sprinting out of the gate, but marching in tandem in the end.

To review a year in which so much went wrong could seem an odd commentary for an Awards Issue, but beyond the 10 categories in this issue, we saw a reaction in the industry very much worthy of honor.

There is no prize for that, just as there is no metaphor or parable to sum up what we’ve seen.

But sometimes you don’t get a prize.

Sometimes you just do the right thing.

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