Special Edition: Transparency in Dietary Supplements

Transparency lens focused on supply end of supplement industry

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Transparency lens focused on supply end of supplement industry
Securing sources of supply is not only good business practice, it can also boost a company’s transparency efforts. Examples abound of companies putting raw cost concerns aside to push forward efforts to make sure fragile ecosystems are protected and potentially endangered species are nurtured.

In the omega-3s supply sphere, questions continue to swirl around the harvest of the Euphasia superba​ species of krill from Antarctic waters. Greenpeace recently published a report that was highly critical of the harvest of krill in the Antarctic.

Transparency on krill supply

Fishing in the waters around Antarctica is governed by a multinational organization known as CCAMLR, or the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Aker has operated under this organization’s oversight since the beginning of its krill operations in the far South Atlantic Ocean almost a decade ago.  

Aker notes frequently that the harvest of krill is set by CCAMLR at 0.54% of the theoretical overall biomass. The company also mentions that it devotes time on its harvest vessels to be used purely for population research.

Greenpeace was not swayed. In its recent report, titled “A License to Krill,” the environmental nonprofit had this to say:

“Despite the industry’s attempts to portray itself as one of the world’s most sustainable fisheries, evidence collected by Greenpeace demonstrates a pattern of fishing activity increasingly close to shore and in the immediate vicinity of penguin colonies and whale feeding grounds.

‘Crucially, krill fishing is taking place in areas which have been put forward as ocean sanctuaries. Such protected areas will help these marine ecosystems to build resilience to the combined impacts of climate change, pollution and fishing,”​ the report said.

Buying in to call for MPAs

The nonprofit called for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas around the Antarctic continent. MPAs exist in many areas of the world’s oceans. They vary by jurisdiction in which activities are restricted within them and by how much, depending on the issues the MPA was established to address. Some, such as a number within US national territory, allow fishing within the MPA.

Up to now all MPAs have been associated with coastal waters of one nation or another. MPAs in Antarctica would be the first to be established in extra national territory.

In an effort to boost its transparency bona fides, the krill industry recently signed on to Greenpeace’s call to protect Antarctica. The Association of Responsible Krill companies, or ARK, an association spearheaded by Aker, recently threw its support behind the effort at an event in Cambridge, UK. ARK is said to represent 85% of krill harvesting capacity.

“We believe that we can harvest krill in a sustainable way and that no-fish zones and sustainable fisheries can co-exist. All our measures taken over the years to safeguard the ecosystem in Antarctica is based on science. Our intention with this commitment is to support CCAMLR’s work on establishing a network of large-scale science-based marine protected areas in the Antarctic. We welcome dialogue with all stakeholders to continue to learn and develop our operations,”​ said Kristine Harmann, Aker’s executive vice president of sustainability.

This is a bold and progressive move from these krill fishing companies, and we hope to see the remainder of the krill industry follow suit,”​ said Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace.

It remains to be seen whether this new agreement will provide some leverage with retailers who have backed away from krill because of sustainability concerns. Whole Foods Markets banished krill oil from its shelves a number of years ago. And in the wake of the Greenpeace report, UK retailer Holland and Barrett announced it was following suit.

Transparency about collection practices

In the botanical realm, full transparency can include efforts to protect easily over harvested species. The American Herbal Products Association has published a document called Good Agricultural Collection Practices and Good Manufacturing Practices (GACP-GMP) for Botanical Materials. One section of the document lays out how companies can source wildcrafted materials in a transparent manner that would stand up to scrutiny.

The GACP-GMP document includes the text itself and a series of assessment tools companies can use to see how they’re doing and where they need to improve. These can be downloaded here​.

“From the choice of collection location to the collection techniques used, careful consideration of the relevant factors will help ensure the wild collection operation yields properly identified botanicals materials of the desired quality, and is able to do so year after year on a sustainable basis,” ​the wildcrafted assessment tool states. 

Making sure a source will continue

Sometimes, when assessing a botanical source, a company comes up with the answer that there won’t be enough, if the ingredient made from that source gains popularity. Being transparent about supply bottlenecks then impels the firm to do something about it.

Sami-Sabinsa group recently took this bull by the horns by starting a reforestation project to ensure the supply of Pterocarpus marsupim​. Also known as the Indian Kino tree, this species provides the raw material for two of Sabinsa’s extracts, marketed under the names Silbenol and pTeroSol.

Pterocarpus marsupium​ extracts from the Indian Kino tree have been used for control of blood sugar in Ayurveda for centuries. The traditional Ayurvedic method of controlling diabetes involved drinking a water extract of Pterocarpus obtained either by soaking pieces of the wood in water overnight or utilizing a tumbler carved from that wood filled with water.

In an effort to ensure the future supply of this botanical, Sabinsa has undertaken a reforestation effort in cooperation with the government of Madhya Pradesh State to plant 166,000 of the trees on 250 acres of forest land. The effort won NutraIngredients-USA’s Industry Initiative of the Year award​, which was given at an event in Chicago on Monday.

“As our research on ​Pterocarpus marsupium extract confirmed traditional usage and we began to anticipate future demand for the extract, we became concerned that demand could quickly decimate available supplies,” ​said Shaheen Majeed, Sabinsa’s worldwide president. “The cultivation will not only help us have a sustainable supply, but will preserve this traditional plant in India.”

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