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On your radar > Botanicals

Adulteration issues highlighted 2012, Blumenthal says

By Hank Schultz , 13-Dec-2012

The year 2012 might not mark the end of the world.  But in future years as people look back, it might mark the beginning of the end for the adulteration of botanical materials, according to Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council.

Adulteration on the downside, and on the positive flip side more scientific evidence for the efficacy of certain botanicals were among the highlights of the news in the herbal sphere in the past year, Blumenthal told NutraIngredients-USA.

“Adulteration as a phenomenon in this industry has gotten extremely well played (in the media in 2012). There is much more recognition and awareness of the problems of adulteration,” Blumenthal said. After many years of having the adulteration skeleton rattling around in the closet, in the last year or so industry finally seems ready to wrestle with the issue in the open, he said.

“People seem to acknowledge that the adulteration agenda is on the table. It’s getting a lot of attention through the constant reportage on the matter.”

Status quo no longer acceptable

Blumenthal said ABC has gotten some credit for being among the leaders in the push to provide more information on adulteration issues.  He said it was mostly a case of being in the right place at the right time.

“We had gotten to the point that we realized that the status quo was no longer acceptable and that we needed to really marshal resources to provide the technical information and educational resources to companies for them to know what’s going on out there and to properly qualify their raw materials,” he said.

Blumenthal singled out for special praise the recent release of the American Herbal Product Association’s botanical wiki tool .  This is an open source online resource for the sharing of information on testing for various botanicals that includes, in its current beta version, rundowns on more than 120 botanicals.

“It is a significant resource not only in North America but around the world. It goes beyond adulteration to focus on identification,” he said.

ABC solvents reference

One effort that is close to fruition along these lines in the impending publication of ABC’s reference book on solvents, which was originally planned as a white paper but just kept on growing.

“We think that this is an important issue that has almost been ignored by industry over the previous decade,” Blumenthal said.  Everyone knows that extraction requires solvents, but what solvents were commonly being used, and even how much of them were left in the finished products, had been getting glossed over, he said.

“Sellers are coming in representing manufacturers for various botanical extracts and they present a CofA to a would be buyer and that CofA doesn’t even list the solvent in the extract,” Blumenthal said. “You can’t have an extract without a solvent, even if the solvent is water or ethanol or CO2.

“It follows that if it doesn’t list the solvent, it doesn’t list the residual level. That CofA is missing a key piece of information.  One could then start to question the validity and accuracy of the rest of the information,” he said.

Blumenthal said he hopes the book will, “raise industry awareness of the need to know what solvents the extracts are made with and to run the appropriate tests.”

So while adulteration will likely always be a choice that some in the industry will make, perhaps 2012 will mark the end of the era in which people could reasonably plead simple ignorance of the issues.

Increasing scientific evidence

“One of the areas in the good news department is there was a growing body of systematic reviews and meta-analyses that strongly suggest or confirm one or more health benefits for many popular or in some cases not so popular botanicals in the marketplace,” Blumenthal said.

For example, he said: “There is data showing that soy lowers blood pressure.  There is data showing that garlic lowers blood pressure. There is data showing high flavonol cocoa preparations lower blood pressure, just to speak on blood pressure alone.”

And another good news story concerned overall favorable market conditions.  In September, ABC released a report that sales of herbal products had hit $5.3 billion in the US in 2011.  The report, which included data from Nutrition Business Journal, showed that sales grew 4.3% in that period, outpacing inflation.

“That is a strong indicator that consumers are still strongly committed to using botanical dietary supplement as an integral part of their self care,” Blumenthal said.

Looking forward, Blumenthal said he expects regulatory concerns to loom large over the landscape in 2013.

“I think we are going to see more robust regulation. Daniel Fabricant (PhD, director of FDA’s division of dietary supplement programs) has made it abundantly clear that FDA is going to be zealously enforcing DHSEA,” he said.

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