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Opportunity and danger in 2009

A year ago, the FDA approved a $42.2 million package to improve food safety. According to the FDA, "the foundation of the FDA plan is to increase its focus on prevention, to identify potential food threats to the food supply and counteract them before they harm consumers." Though as I write this in mid-January, the agency says the industrial chemical melamine and a byproduct cyanuric acid have now been detected in four of 89 containers of infant formula made in the United States, doubling previously reported positive results. And, there is a new salmonella outbreak that has sickened 138 people and spread to 42 states since September.

The FDA maintains that the melamine levels are below any dangerous quantities. The agency set a threshold of one part per million of melamine in formula, provided a related chemical, including cyanuric acid, is not present. None of the formula has tested above that threshold. Though for parents of infants, this is little comfort.

The Chinese character for crisis is a combination of wei and ji — ji meaning opportunity, wei meaning danger. The ongoing food safety situation with melamine could certainly be described as weiji, for both its opportunity and danger. As our news editor, Richard Clarke, reports British, US and Chinese consumers are concerned about food safety and quality — though the Chinese are more concerned. A salient ingredient in Chinese culture is the importance of food for health. The danger is that quality and safety issues will continue to erode consumer trust.

The ji, or opportunity, is that the Asian functional-foods and beverages market is set to grow, yes, actually grow, in the next three years. While these growth rates are impressive, they will only continue to grow if consumer trust and confidence stays strong. Even with such impressive growth rates in a declining economy, a lack of consumer trust can cut these numbers off at the knees. In 2009, the key to success will be to communicate honest and authentic messages that convey a commitment to GMPs and valid, credible marketing. Author Patty Reagin delves into health-claim marketing, with advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of less-than-truthful marketing.

The wei, or danger, is that promising too much and underdelivering, can lead to not only eroded trust but also a warning letter from the FDA. If this is an area in which you are less than versed in the right language, I recommend a recently released book by Pam Magnuson, What Can you Say, When You Can't Say Anything? How to Avoid FDA Red Flag Claims and Sell Your Natural Products Legally (

Zh? ni˚ ji?nkāng ch?ngsh?u (Good health and long life),

Kimberly Stewart
Editorial Director
[email protected]

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