Four industry experts discussed product quality in Las Vegas on Wednesday and the overarching theme was suppliers need to be vigilant themselves and not expect labs they contract to fill in quality gaps.
The panelists highlighted issues they say are hampering product quality in the industry, such as a lack of standard testing methodology and an inability among manufacturers to target the right questions according to their product.
"Some of the biggest challenges we face are the methodologies," said Jana Hildreth, CEO and technical director of Blaze Science Industries in California. "The customer doesn't adequately ask the lab what they require."
But the problem can literally begin right at the root said Natural Products Association (NPA) vice president of scientific affairs, Daniel Fabricant. For instance, a plant that looks similar to the actual herbal may have been used. As such, panelists said manufacturers have to be assertive and make sure the right part of the right ingredient has been used.
"You don't just send in a product and say 'test my St. John's Wort'," said Hildreth. "You have to explain to them what it is you are looking for."
According to Fabricant, a monograph is not enough - a chemical profile indicating the ratio of actives you are looking for is also needed. The panelists pointed out however, that manufacturers often don't assess accurately the exact chemical composition they are targeting in a plant or other ingredient. Therefore they may not know how to frame their questions properly to a lab.
"When you send out your product commercially to five different labs, you get five different answers," said Hildreth. "Why is that?"
Hildreth pointed out that there has been a push in recent years towards using validation processes from outside organizations such as AOAC International and United States Pharmacopeia, but these have not been standardized across the board.
"We have methods that are not harmonized yet and these are the biggest issues that mean people are having conflicting lab results," said Hildreth.
However, stamping an ingredient as having been tested with such 'approved methodologies' allows suppliers to gain more credibility, even in cases where it may not be merited, according to Hildreth.
"They force the method to do something it can't do," said Hildreth. "You have to understand that saying you used an official method does not mean they are giving you the true results or appropriate results."
For instance, Hildreth cited the example of using finished product testing methodologies on raw ingredients - a process which would not bring about accurate results.
"Our industry is lacking in really well defined standards" said Hildreth. "Don't get fooled by these words being thrown around."