“We all need to start breathing the solution…”

These are the words of Renee Southard, president of SENPA, from the 7thAnnual Organic & Natural Health Conference in Ft. Myers Beach, FL. In a world defined by COVID, the dietary supplement industry faces enormous stresses. The complexity of an international supply chain is challenged by labor shortages, transportation issues and a demand, bordering on obsession, for the ingredients and products that consumers want. At the same time, we know environmental stress places the very future of our industry at a critical juncture. The health of people and planet are deeply enmeshed; a fact our consumers are very clear on. So yes, we all need to start breathing the solution. And, that’s just what happened at our January conference.

The most amazing things happen when you put representation from every partner in the supply chain in one room. At O&N Health, everyone from raw ingredients suppliers to distributors, manufacturer and brands, and retailers and consumers are equal stakeholders. It is a wealth of knowledge and expertise that must not be wasted. So when we traveled to Mackinac Island in August 2021, the intention was set. We asked O&N Health members what we need to do, what we must have, and what we can take advantage of to support consumers and effectively utilize the resources at hand.

The findings from Mackinac Island were thoughtful and forward thinking. Supply chain problems are about more than shipping, shortages of glue, and ingredient adulteration. They include a need for investment in partnerships, including the farmers themselves, and a need to create wealth distribution that enables a fair wage and healthy communities. Solutions can no longer ignore the pillaging of natural resources. Corporate America is actively committed to effective carbon reduction. We must be more than organic in our practices. We must be regenerative. The people we serve, and the Black and brown people who need our work and products, must be able to trust the quality standards we espouse. And finally, the “gorilla in the room,” Amazon, is not likely to be tamed. We agreed there was much to learn about the implications of such a powerhouse on our regulatory paradigm and this newly formed, competitive landscape.

Our president (and head of Venable’s law firm), Todd Harrison’s phone never stopped ringing during our political panel discussion. Perhaps a sign that the challenges at DSHEA’s door are growing at a rate exponentially equivalent to the growth of the industry, as beautifully articulated by Tom Aarts, founder of the NBJ Summit and managing director of Nutrition Business Advisors. We have new tools for our toolbox. We’ll be doing candidate surveys to assess support for our issues in the 2022 mid-term elections. We learned that nematode research could supplant the need for animal trials. We can now test and evaluate nutrient density in foods, and finally, identify organic fraud. There is a commitment and there are tools to ensure the standards we believe in can be demonstrated and trusted by our consumers.

We were also privy to the most comprehensive conversation on how regenerative practices are changing our industry. The work of MegaFood (Bethany Davis), RFI Ingredients (Paul Altaffer), Mad Agriculture (Elizabeth Candelario) and the Organic Consumers Association (Ronnie Cummins) bears witness to the industry’s ability to change the world, in a good way. It was an honor to have Andre Leu of Regeneration International guide our speakers through the ways in which they are changing business practices for the sake of our collective future.

Ronnie Cummins of Organic Consumers Association (OCA) accepts the O&N Health's Visionary Award from Karen Howard. Courtesy of O&N Health .

O&N Health is deeply committed to work that benefits consumers. To that end, the board of directors created our Visionary Award, to celebrate work that ensures a vital and resilient world, while recognizing an individual who has demonstrated leadership, and served as a catalyst for change, in an effort to support the health of the planet, and subsequently its people. Our board named Ronnie Cummins of Organic Consumers Association (OCA) as the first beneficiary of this award for his “One Billion Agaves” campaign, an ecosystem regeneration strategy that combines the growth of agave plants and companion forest species that fix nitrogen (such as mesquite), with rotational grazing of cattle. OCA under Ronnie’s direction is transforming arid lands by reducing overgrazing pressure on fragile grasslands to improve soil health and water retention while reducing and storing huge amounts of atmospheric CO2. O&N Health members will get a chance to see this project as we are planning our next trip to Mexico. The goal of the “One Billion Agaves” campaign is to plant one billion agaves around the world to reduce and store billions of tons of climate-destabilizing CO2. In Ronnie’s words, “We have reached a point in time when we have to sit down with the wealthy and regenerate the earth… and I think the time is now.”

The world needs all of us to act from a place of intention. The fact that regenerative practices are becoming mainstream is a victory. However, our objective to ensure diet and supplementation as a cornerstone of the health care system remains an uphill battle. Dr. Pierre Kory, president of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, opened our conference with the story of his struggle to ensure all Americans have access to the entirety of health care options available for COVID-19. Doctors across the country are quietly treating patients successfully with simple, inexpensive medications. These are doctors who fully appreciate the importance of nutritional supplementation, including vitamin D. Their work is being labeled as myth and deception. I am reminded about the FDA’s response to our vitamin D petition relating to pre-term births, and their assertion that “there is no room for logic in science.”  At O&N Health we have little patience for treating health care as a silo, claiming medication is always more important than nutrition, and prioritizing disease treatment at the expense of wellness initiatives. At O&N Health, we are breathing the solution everyday.