From the editor's desk

Trade organization membership seen as differentiator

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Lubos Houska
Picture: Lubos Houska

Related tags Trade Associations

The recently concluded Probiota Americas 2019 put on by NutraIngredients-USA shows how trade organizations can be a force for good within the industry.

The event, which was put on in partnership the International Probiotics Association (IPA), concluded on Wednesday in Vancouver, BC.  The activities highlighted at the event were a reminder of how trade groups can drive an industry forward, rather than merely serving as trail bosses who help circle the wagons when necessary.

Trade organizations can be a double edged sword. Such groups, and the information they distribute and the policies they advocate for, are often viewed by mainstream media journalists with a certain amount of suspicion. That view is partly informed by the history of groups like those representing weapons makers and tobacco companies.

Giving trade organizations a bad name

For example, the National Rifle Association, which advocates for gun rights as well as advancing the interests of members that include firearms manufacturers, has been a highly divisive element in US politics.  And the Tobacco Institute was a trade organization founded in 1958 that sought to obfuscate the link between smoking and cancer and was forcibly disbanded in 1998 as part of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

As a former mainstream media journalist (I was an assistant city editor at a major daily newspaper), I get this attitude of suspicion.  At their worst trade organizations can be factories for repetitive blather.  Jaded journalists had been trained to the idea that putting in a call to one of these groups was something that ought to be done to uphold notions of fairness and impartiality.  But don’t expect much.  You could almost write the statement yourself, and just leave the name part open.

But now that I am a journalist within an industry, I see the other side. At their best, trade organizations can serve to foster best practices within their industries in addition to looking out for their members’ interests.

Pushing science and quality

The IPA, for example, does a lot of work behind the scenes trying to work out the best regulatory structures for these unique ingredients. In addition, the group highlights the best science backing the effects of the ingredients. It also has documents relating to best practices for manufacturing and one for labeling that was developed in concert with the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

The most recent Probiota event, which was co-located with IPA’s World Congress, featured talks on models of microbiome reactions including Drosophila (fruit flies) and a highly automated system using the organism C. elegans. Also featured were looks at best practices in the design of clinical trials put on by Nutrasource Diagnostics, as well as recent research that DuPont has done on its suite of probiotics.

Industry initiatives

IPA is not alone in pushing its members to be better.  CRN has been working up its Supplement OWL database for several years, which can serve as a tool for regulators, scientists and consumers to get the latest information on products that are on the market and their ingredients.

The American Herbal Products Association has spearheaded an effort to develop a framework for botanical products GMPs, which built upon work the organization had done to develop guidelines for best way to harvest and safeguard the supply of these materials.

And CRN and AHPA, along with the Natural Products Association and the United Natural Products Alliance, lobby on Capitol Hill to make sure that consumers continue to have the freedom to choose from among carefully made and responsibly marketed products to augment their health regimens.

And the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), has driven agreement within its sector on ingredient specifications.  GOED has been so successful in this that consumers can be almost guaranteed that any omega-3 supplement will meet minimum quality standards. And along the way this record of success has turned GOED into the standard by which any other single ingredient association in the dietary supplement industry must be judged. 

Mark of commitment

When I first entered this industry, I was inundated with queries from friends and family.  They wanted to know what all consumers want to know about dietary supplements:  Which ones are the best?  Which ones should I buy?

What to tell them?  With 50,000, 80,000, 100,000 plus products on the market, where would you begin?  Now that I’ve been at this a while, I have an answer I’m comfortable with.

Do a bit of research to see if the company making the product is a member of one or more of the industry’s trade organizations.  Most of the companies that are shelling out the membership dues are happy to let others know about it. I’d tell my friends and family to choose those products first.

 If a company chooses not to play it’s not necessarily proof that they are trying to fly under the radar by using low quality and/or dodgy ingredients.  But it’s not a good sign, either.

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