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Supplement Perspectives

It's Not Always the Exporter's Fault

<p>When it comes to&nbsp;shortcomings in the international supply game, Elan Sudberg says supplement manufacturers need to look in the mirror.</p>

“It’s not you, its me…”

We’ve all heard this line whether in a movie or in real life. It’s a seemingly benevolent way of “letting someone out” of a relationship by persuading them that it’s not their fault but rather something on our end that forced this sad conclusion.

The international supply game can be as tricky as the dating game: our early interactions are based upon the cursory review of attractive offerings. Like peacock feathers, the promise of low prices, quick delivery, and high quality catches our attention. Then there’s that first date/transaction, which can set the stage for a lifelong, mutually beneficial relationship of trust, loyalty, and understanding. Or not.

Importing and exporting in the dietary supplement industry has been tainted over the years. It has a bad reputation that has trickled down to consumers. High-end grocery stores now tout items their shelves that are “NOT FROM CHINA.” I’ve seen specially made labels on products indicating such. For the consumer, this is an inaccurate value proposition implying that the product must be safe since it’s not from China.

I don’t blame China or India or any of the popular exporting parties. I blame the importing parties also known as us. This might just be the only legitimate instance where “It’s not you, it’s me” can be played.

See, quality is in the eyes of the beholder. In most cases, it’s not the exporting party’s fault that poor quality has coursed through the veins of this industry; it’s the receiving party whose job is to guide quality into its products.

It is the receiving party that sets the specifications of the products it’s importing. It’s also up to the receiving party to qualify such materials before, during, and after the supplement has been produced. When price point and turnaround time lead in importance, the exporter will follow just that. Quality just may come last unless you specify otherwise. China and other “tainted exporters” have the ability to produce the highest quality products in this market—if you are willing to pay for it.

I don’t have all the facts, but I can’t believe that melamine or lead was added to milk and the paint on children’s toys with the intention to harm. Rather, it was a cost-cutting measure gone unnoticed by the importing parties. In some cultures, it is clever to trick someone. In ours, it should be clever to not only catch such activities but to mitigate them with preventative quality control. Trust is a word that must be backed by sound scientific methods. Both the melamine and lead debacles of yesteryear could have been prevented by a strong testing regime. Too bad such things cut into the bottom line.

The international supply game is one that must never be left to complacency, and not just clear communication of specs like, “No poison, please.” Preventative quality control must be in place to ensure that cost-cutting corners don’t turn into reputation-destroying edges.

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