ESSNA said the project was part of its efforts to safeguard the reputation of the sector at a time when national authorities did not have the resources needed for such a mammoth monitoring task. Members and non-members of the trade association – which represents the likes of Glanbia Performance Nutrition, Grenade and Arla – would now be able to submit a concern through an online form without revealing an email address. It hoped that its newly launched Twitter and LinkedIn pages would help extend the reach of the campaign.
Chris Whitehouse, managing director for ESSNA’s communications agency Whitehouse Consultancy, told us such investigations started when an anonymous complaint was received, after which a “helpful” letter was sent to the company explaining the issue and the regulation concerned.
This normally saw a prompt and positive response from the company, which may have been unaware of the regulatory issue. However, if a resolution could not be found at this stage, ESSNA forwarded the case onto the relevant national authority.
The worst offenders were selling products that contained illegal substances or carried “wildly inaccurate claims” breaching the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR), many of which were on products sold online by companies based outside of Europe.
Whitehouse said resource-strapped national authorities had been supportive of the campaign since it not only helped them monitor the market but also meant they did not have to step in on all cases of non-compliance.
“We fully appreciate that in these times of austerity government resources are tightly squeezed. We also expect that government will continue to act swiftly and firmly when there is a threat to public safety. However, it has fewer resources to put into anti-competitive practices when there isn’t any immediate and present danger to the public.”
ESSNA members: Adams Food Ingredients, Aminolabs, Arla Foods Ingredients, Athlete King Sports Nutrition, Bodybuilding.com, Body Temple UK, Bulk Powders, Cambridge Commodities, Corperformance, CLF Distribution, Cytosport, DCC Health & Beauty Solutions, First Milk, Fitness Boutique, Fonterra, FrieslandCampina, Future Nutrition, General Nutrition Corporation (GNC), Glanbia Performance Nutrition, Grenade, Healthspark, Herbs in a Bottle, High Five, Iovate Health Services International, Kerry EMEA, Kinetica, LGC, Manumixx, MaxiNutrition, Medix Laboratories, MP Bio Science, myprotein.co.uk, NBTY Europe Ltd, NSF International, Nutraveris, PhD Nutrition, Prometeus, Protein World, Sci-MX Nutrition, Scitec Nutrition. Tropicana Health and Fitness, USN UK, Vitamin Center, Volac, Weider Germany and Weider Publishing.
Asked if this marked a rise of a kind of vigilante trade group, he said this was not a word he would use and ESSNA was simply allocating resources to deal with an issue its members found unacceptable. He said non-compliance negatively effected the reputation of the industry and gave an unfair competitive advantage to unregulated businesses.
“I would see this as a coming of age, of a maturing of a sector to become the responsible corporate players they now are.”
He said such a scheme bought the trade association closer to policy makers on a national and European level, strengthening its position as a representative of the sector.
Reaching out to non-members
It has always been possible for non-members to submit complaints to ESSNA, yet it was now advertising this fact to non-members. Whitehouse said this meant more eyes on the market.
A clear FAQ form would be released soon as a guide to what information could help the secretariat tackle non-compliance.
ESSNA would also be extending its “very constructive” work with UK anti-doping agencies as part of the 2012 London Olympics to agencies in the other 27 member states.
He said it was important to remind authorities across Europe that ESSNA existed, that it had the resources to deal with these issues to a certain extent but that these authorities also had a legal responsibility to deal with them as well.