Guest Article

Food supplement regulation and policy: Five things to look out for

By By Simon Pettman, Executive Director of IADSA, the International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations

- Last updated on GMT

Food supplement regulation and policy: Five things to look out for
With major regulatory and policy developments on the horizon all over the world, it is a significant time for the dietary supplement sector. IADSA shares its five key things to look out for moving forward.

Staying on top of the latest regulations and policy developments can be a complex and time-consuming task. At IADSA​, we help build regulation and policy across the world that works for government, industry and consumers.

Here’s an overview of five of the most important topics currently on IADSA’s radar.

1. Major decisions on botanicals

Because of their heritage and long history of use, botanical ingredients often stir up emotions in ways that other ingredients don’t. This is true even among governments and regulators. “Botanical supplements, that is what we really care about – this is our tradition,” said the head of a major government agency to us recently. This sentiment is widely shared, so perhaps it is surprising that in so many countries the regulation of the use of botanical supplements is still not finalised. Why is this the case? In fact, part of the challenge might be the extent to which botanicals are so deep-rooted in many cultures. Their traditional use, often over hundreds or thousands of years, means that they do not always fit easily into regulations created for the supplement sector. Considering how long botanicals have been around, food supplements are a relatively new form of delivery. Furthermore, the global trade in supplements is not necessarily geared up to take account of local attitudes to botanicals, their use and their benefits. The result is complexities, subtleties and challenges for those trading in botanicals between countries and regions. This year, however, a number of government bodies will be aiming to bring some clarity. The European Commission, for one, is expected to issue its report on botanicals in food towards the middle of this year. Meanwhile, the Pacific Alliance countries of Latin America – Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru – are considering how to progress their negative list of botanicals. It looks like 2019 will be an important year for the botanicals sector, a prospect that many will welcome.

2. Governments viewing supplements strategically

Rewind 20 years, and few governments would have even considered discussing the economic value that food supplements can deliver for their country. Things have changed: politicians have watched as the market has grown steadily, while supplement companies and their suppliers have continued to innovate in ever more creative ways. This commercial success has caught the eye, and governments are keen to increase their engagement with the sector. In the ASEAN bloc, it is hoped that moves to adopt a single market with one common approach to supplement regulation will attract manufacturing and R&D investment to the region. Within the Pacific Alliance region of Latin America there is support for treating supplements as a priority case for harmonisation, due in no small part to the economic vibrancy of the sector. Officials at the very top of Indian government have recognised that there is an opportunity to capitalise on the growing popularity internationally of Indian herbs, often from the Ayurvedic tradition. They are now looking at how they can build strategies that will encourage and support the development of this trend for the benefit of India’s economy. The success of the supplement sector is prompting many governments to look at it with fresh eyes, and in turn consider how they can play their part in helping it to thrive.

3. The integration of supplements into health policy

Life expectancy is rising, but so are healthcare costs – especially those related to treating age-related conditions. Governments everywhere are taking steps to encourage consumers to lead healthier lives. But the data shows that their efforts to improve consumers’ diets and encourage them to take more exercise are insufficient. Unfortunately, supplements are not generally recognised by governments to address possible gaps in the diet.  It is early days, but there is an undercurrent of changing attitudes which could, in time, prove to be highly significant for the future of the supplement sector – and consumers’ health.

4. Regulators demanding ever more data

As these macro-developments play out, all over the world, governments are demanding more and more information to support the use of additives and ingredients, whether it is for verifying safety, the substantiation of health claims, or approval of new ingredients. In some cases, requirements are considered to be disproportionate, but nonetheless this demanding regulatory landscape reflects the growth and increased recognition of the sector. Supplements are consumed widely by hundreds of millions of people. It should be no surprise, therefore, when they are subject to attention and scrutiny. Extra requirements need to be proportionate, but sometimes they go hand in hand with success.

5. Harmonisation still strong
If you only ever read news from the major media outlets you would presume that harmonisation is dead, with headlines dominated by trade battles, Brexit, barriers at borders and various governments wanting to 'take back control'. But at the more practical level – the level that matters, much of the time – progress towards harmonisation continues steadily. The EU continues to move forward on regulation particularly of a more technical nature. The neighbouring Eurasian Union continues to initiate and address issues that will impact supplements across the region. A common approach to regulation is expected to be adopted by the 10 member states of ASEAN this year. The Pacific Alliance, meanwhile, which is the newcomer in the harmonisation game, has ambitious targets for completing its work on supplements. Taken together, these developments demonstrate that reports of harmonisation’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Achieving it may never be easy, but the desire to do so continues to be strong.

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