The Organic & Natural Health Association (O&N Health) has always prioritized strategic planning, dedicating an annual August retreat to support these efforts. Our focus lies in identifying the key issues that act as standard bearers within our supply chain. By delving deep into these concerns, we uncover underlying threats and forge new pathways to achieve different outcomes. Allow me to illustrate this approach with a compelling example.
The Rise of GMOs & Combatting Synthetic Biology
Ten years ago, the industry found itself grappling with the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). At that time, the primary concern revolved around consumer confusion regarding GMOs and the potential inclusion of undisclosed ingredients within the supply chain. Industry conversations largely centered around potential legal action and community advocacy to curb the influx of GMO ingredients in food and supplements.
As time progressed, the issue evolved, leading to government regulations mandating the labeling of "genetically engineered" products. Today we face a developing crisis with the proliferation of GMO-derived ingredients in our food and dietary supplements. The lack of transparency surrounding the sourcing of these novel products threatens our environment, and the nutritional claims associated with them remain questionable. Can a Perfect Day product truly offer the same nutritional value as milk?
One year ago, O&N Health initiated a comprehensive educational campaign targeting our stakeholders, including ingredient suppliers, manufacturers, brands, and retailers. Our objective was to provide clarity on the subject of synthetic biology and dispel misconceptions surrounding it. Having recognized the imminent threat, we promptly utilized our strengths to create opportunities for change. We are currently engaged in scientific evaluations of ‘synbio’ products and their claims. However, synthetic dietary supplement ingredients continue to silently infiltrate the supply chain. It is imperative that today's desired outcome centers around complete transparency.
A Decade of Challenges:
Persistent Issues in the Dietary Supplements Industry
Taking a 10-year retrospective look at the challenges faced by the dietary supplements industry reveals a series of recurrent topics that have been exhaustively discussed within individual trade associations, with only sporadic collaboration. This extensive list includes topics such as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), New Dietary Ingredients (NDIs), and various claims-related issues. Additionally, concerns regarding supply chain risks, encompassing transparency, quality, adulteration, integrity, and stability, persist. The prevalence of false claims, unethical actors, and negative media coverage further compounds these challenges. Remarkably, neither the list nor the approaches employed to address these issues have significantly changed over the past decade. It is evident that the underlying factors inhibiting industry-wide collaboration remain unaddressed.
Here, I present the top reasons why the problems of the past decade continue to persist today.
Industry's Go-it-Alone Mentality
Our industry's roots lie deep in independent thinking and innovation, which have propelled us to create unique health and nutrition solutions. A defining moment for the industry was the DSHEA battle, which brought competitors together and engaged the public. Unfortunately, we have lost that sense of cohesiveness, along with the Coalition to Preserve DSHEA. It is worth considering whether a new form of the Coalition could be established to foster collaboration, working towards a shared cause or project.
Too Few Champions
Federal and state legislators often lack proper education on, or indifference toward, our industry's issues. This leads to ill-informed decision-making and unfavorable legislation. It is crucial that we no longer subject ourselves to the influence of Members of Congress who fail to prioritize our concerns. We must actively engage with Congress, establishing strong relationships and advocating for our needs. Moreover, it is time to nurture and support our own leaders at the city, state, and federal levels. Let us take charge of our destiny and elect representatives who understand and champion our cause.
Industry's Lackluster Commitment to Independent Retailers
While it may seem that the industry's lack of collaboration is due to interpersonal conflicts, the reality is that different financial influences and sales stressors drive our actions. The pharmaceutical ownership model prevalent in our industry differs significantly from the business model followed by independently owned and operated players. To address this issue, we must create a nationwide grassroots consumer network by leveraging independent retailers. This network will serve as a powerful force for advancing critical issues within the dietary supplement industry. We are pleased to report that the groundwork for this initiative has already been laid through the “All for Vitamin D” educational campaign, which seeks to include vitamin D in the SNAP program. We encourage you to take action by contacting your representatives in Congress today.
The Challenge of Bad Actors
A significant majority of compliance failures can be attributed to bad actors within our industry. These individuals engage in practices such as making false claims, producing counterfeit products, and utilizing adulterated ingredients. To tackle this problem head-on, we need to expand our toolkit, introducing pragmatic legal options for dealing with large resellers. Moreover, we should establish our own protocols for external evaluation and generate media coverage that assures consumers their safety is a top priority.
A Proactive Approach
O&N Health is already taking decisive action to effect change in several of these areas. We are actively collaborating with SENPA, INFRA, and Natural Grocers, among others, to ensure that consumers have access to the products they desire while safeguarding our limited resources. This mission requires collective effort, and we invite you to join us in shaping a future that upholds the highest standards of our industry.
The natural products industry faces numerous challenges as it strives for a sustainable and transparent supply chain. Through strategic planning, collaborative efforts, and a proactive approach, O&N Health aims to address these challenges head-on. By championing transparency, nurturing leaders, fostering collaboration, and ensuring consumer safety, we can forge a path toward a thriving future. Together, let us seize this opportunity to shape the industry we envision.