Wanted: Consumer Involvement

In recent months, there has been a good deal of discussion regarding the legality of many ingredients that horse and pet owners take for granted in supplements. Much of this discussion has centered on the proposed enforcement action by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) for ingredients that have not yet received "ingredient definition." The ability of individual manufacturers to fund this "definition" process has been largely hamstrung by the high cost--as much as $100,000 per ingredient and per species--and the fact that individual manufacturers are understandably reluctant to unilaterally invest in funding these "definitions" with no ability to patent their products and protect their investment.

The National Association of Equine Supplement Manufacturers (NAESM) was closely involved with AAFCO and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials in attempting to find a solution to the issue of non-defined ingredients for much of the last two years; unfortunately, the AAFCO task force was disbanded in December 2001 and was replaced by Enforcement Strategy for Marketed Ingredients Working Group (ESMI). All direct industry participation with this new group was disallowed and the text and tenure of threatened enforcement action increased.

In recent weeks, a new coalition of manufacturers from both the pet and equine industries has come together to find practical solutions to many of these issues. This new association, the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), is working closely with both AAFCO and the FDA to develop a series of new initiatives that will (we hope) allow for the definition of many ingredients as per AAFCO's requirements.

The issue of these "defined ingredients" is complex and requires efforts at compromise from all parties. Legitimate manufacturers have no desire to see ingredients that have potential safety issues being sold. At the same time, there has to be a realistic approach to the regulation of ingredients such as glucosamine. Glucosamine has been widely sold for many years without one single documented case of an adverse event associated with its use on animals.

In response to commentary painting the entire supplement industry with the same brush--unethical, fraudulent, etc.--it is important to understand that some manufacturers are just as frustrated with the lack of standards as are the regulatory officials. Those few manufacturers who have taken an active role within the NAESM would welcome enforcement action against manufacturers who continue to brazenly ignore any attempt at abiding by basic standards of quality control or label claims.

There are numerous products available that make ridiculous label claims, have little or no manufacturing standards, and incomprehensible labels, and they continue to be purchased by consumers in large quantities because of slick advertising campaigns claiming instant or dramatic results.

Part of the process of improving our industry is for consumers to adopt a more critical and cautionary approach when purchasing supplements. Important questions to ask when making a decision should be:

  • Do I understand what active ingredients are in the product?
  • How much of those ingredients are in a daily serving and are they expressed in a value that I understand? (It takes three key strokes on a calculator to convert parts per million or percentage per pound to milligrams per serving.)
  • Is there a lot number and an expiration date on the product?
  • Is there any kind of drug claim on the label?
  • Is the product noticeably less expensive than similar products?

Look for these red flags when purchasing supplements, and if a satisfactory explanation for any discrepancy is not forthcoming from the manufacturer, don't buy the product!

Until consumers demand more accountability from manufacturers and force those companies that do not play by the rules to change their ways on these issues, it is highly unlikely that the changes necessary to establish industry-wide compliance will occur simply because there will be no pressure to initiate changes.

About the Author

Nick Hartog

Nick Hartog, a founding member of the NASC Board of Directors, has been an advocate of raising ethical and manufacturing standards in the equine supplement industry. Prior to his involvement with NASC, Mr. Hartog was the founder and President of the National Association of Equine Supplement Manufacturers, a nonprofit group founded in 1999 with the goal of raising standards in the equine supplement industry. The NAESM combined with NASC in 2003. Currently, he is President and co-owner of Grand Meadows Nutritional Supplements, Inc., a company he joined in 1997. A fierce advocate of improving standards, Mr. Hartog is a frequent source for articles about the equine supplement industry and has written for magazines such as Equus, North West Horse Source and The Horse. Prior to joining Grand Meadows, Mr. Hartog was a distributor for Rio Vista Equine Products on the east coast. Born in London, he earned a degree in economics at Balliol College in Oxford.

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