NSF brings its DNA supplement testing services to Europe: 'We want to assist EU regulators'

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

NSF hopes its DNA testing can help tackle botanical and sports nutrition contamination in Europe.
NSF hopes its DNA testing can help tackle botanical and sports nutrition contamination in Europe.

Related tags Dna

European authorities and food supplement companies now have access to next generation DNA test methods that can establish whether supplements actually contain the botanical ingredients declared on the label, as NSF International rolls out its supplement testing and certification programme in Europe.

NSF International, the supplement certifier that has supported US authorities in their efforts to crack down on illegal substances in supplements, is expanding its testing and certification services into Europe through its German laboratory, NSF Erdman Analytics. 

NSF acquired German firm Erdman Analytics in 2014 and now that scientists at the laboratory in Wiedenbrück have the “expertise and instrumentation”​, it is offering the European food supplement industry services such as GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice), auditing of manufacturing facilities, supplement ingredient testing and finished product certification. 

Dr Lori Bestevelt, NSF International’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said the move came as European supplement firms were increasingly looking to test raw materials and certify finished products, with botanical and herbal ingredients and products a particular focus. 

“There is growing consumer and regulatory concern regarding the authenticity of dietary supplement ingredients and products. One area of concern has been around herbal or botanical products, and whether they actually contain the botanical ingredient declared on the product label.

"This is where DNA testing comes into play,” ​Dr Lori Bestevelt told NutraIngredients. 

Highly specific DNA authentication

She said that NSF’s proprietary DNA sequencing technology is the only DNA method that works on highly processed plant materials, which contain shorter DNA fragments. 

“While traditional DNA barcoding can be useful in some instances to authenticate raw material, such as fresh and dried herbs, it is less useful for authenticating finished herbal products or botanical supplements, which often contain extracts,” ​she said. 

“Botanical ingredients or extracts used in dietary supplements can be processed in a way that removes or fragments much of the DNA material, while retaining the beneficial phytochemicals that consumers expect. This renders traditional DNA barcoding an inadequate method of authenticating the product as it requires longer regions of DNA strands to identify the species.”​ 

The technology can also detect unexpected contaminants, allergens, pesticide residues, GMOs, fillers and 'filth' in food supplements, said NSF. 

Sports supplements suspect

NSF also anticipates strong demand for its services within sports nutrition, which it describes as one of the “largest product categories of concern”​ from a contaminant perspective. 

“Product offering a quick fix for body building and weight management as well as pre-workout or protein supplements and which make ‘too good to be true’ claims are often suspect.

"Our US laboratory has discovered a number of illegal, synthetic steroids and stimulants that, while described on the label as a natural botanical ingredient, have actually been found by our scientists to be dangerous and illegal drugs,”​ said Bestevelt. 

NSF has supported the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the US Department of Defense in removing a number of products containing these illegal substances from the market. 

NSF said it hoped to provide similar support to regulators this side of the Atlantic. 

“We know European regulators are concerned about these products, and, like their US counterparts, aren’t always given the resources needed to enforce regulations. We would love to assist them in much the same way we’ve supported the US agencies,” ​said Bestevelt. 

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