Editorial: Industry Weather Forecast: Storm Front Emerging

As the general economy weathers the current fits and starts, the industry economy seems to be much more in control of its destiny with positive news outweighing negativity, continuing the suggestion that health, nutrition and lifestyle choice remain consumer priorities. As predicted late last year, as most impacting factors move beyond consumer control (auto sector, banks), the ones that remain take on a more central focus in consumer lives with health issues seeming to remain predominant. These observations continue to suggest that this industry may weather the current storm much better than others.

Behind the scenes, things are also interesting.

In Canada, food format Natural Health Products are on the docket for discussion, the due date for elimination of the Directorate backlog of Product License applications is quickly approaching, a Canadian-manufactured multi-vitamin is about to be granted its acceptability for use certification for elite athletes, boding well for industry status at the Vancouver winter Olympics and industry is about to converge on Vancouver later this week for the Canadian Health Food Association’s Expo West. (I’ll be there speaking Friday discussing Perspectives on Natural Health Products in Sports.)

In the United States, obviously most of the focus is on the economy but behind the scenes, there is some stirring. A few weeks ago, the GAO report on supplements noted obvious issues with the supplement regulatory and compliance environment, with a few other notes that drew not only industry attention, but also got some noted industry detractors on Capitol Hill to trumpet their own agendas. While industry generally agreed with suggestions in the GAO report such as ramping up FDA enforcement and the need for NDI (New dietary Ingredient) guidance, other comments were met less enthusiastically such as a call to report all adverse events and comments suggesting that FDA powers under existing legislation were inadequate. Obviously both of these latter observations are worrying, as any formal challenging or opening up of DSHEA could lead to demands to include pre-market approval.

On collision course…

Over the last two years, many believe that industry has dodged the limelight bullet as food safety and then the economy has taken the lion’s share of the limelight. And in food safety, the focus has been on first, melamine, and then peanuts, as the twin poster children for corporate lack of accountability for product safety. Amidst this background, to greater or lesser extent (depends on whom you ask) supplement companies have been trying to understand and then comply with the requirements of GMP legislation. Judging by the level of questions still being asked, many supplement companies will be seriously challenged to comply and so their first FDA encounters are bound to be both interesting and challenging.

It remains to be seen whether industry can continue to evade the limelight as enforcement is still inadequate, and some business practices remain that are counter to an adequately self-regulated industry. Rumor has it in fact that FDA is trying to get a better handle on economic adulteration in this sector. Well, adulteration has happened with several big ticket items in the recent past, so presumably whenever the motive to adulterate is there, there’s someone ready to take the chance. And so long as reward outweighs risk, the actors will survive.

In many respects, no news is good news, that is, for this industry to stay out of the public limelight should be viewed as a collective success. There are several issues though that may have the potential to elevate to the big stage. And what’s the next logical economic adulteration candidate? Well, stevia of course...

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