There are between 90,000 and 120,000 trade associations in the U.S., including the IBRBS, aka, the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, whose business card was given to me at Natural Products Expo West, and is another story for another time.
Dozens of national associations, and hundreds of regional groups, serve food and beverage companies. Taking part in all of their efforts is impossible. Even monitoring their work via social networks and content aggregators is arduous.
The natural products industry has the Big Six – NPA, CRN, APHA, UNPA, GOED, and ABC, in no particular order. Committing to them at a level adequate enough to make a difference is, as Suzanne Shelton pointed out in her rather brilliant blog, a full-time job.
And yet, committing is important. Through their individual contributions, each association makes the industry better.
Consider the much-publicized senate hearing in which Claire McCaskill flambéed Dr. Mehmet Oz for his approach to weight loss supplements. Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, was there to testify that, yes, there are unscrupulous players out there, CRN spent more than $2 million challenging their claims, and since we’re talking, CRN would like to suggest four ways to address the issue.
Then there’s Loren Israelsen’s idea to create a GMP compliance logo for companies with outstanding compliance records. Why not reward companies who spend time and resources actually living within the tenets of the law? Let’s boldly tell consumers about them. And, maybe FDA can get behind the program. Loren made his suggestion on behalf of UNPA at the popular 12th Annual International Conference on the Science of Botanicals.
So yes, there many, many trade associations.
We need more.
Here are a few suggestions.
By the way, the acronyms are meaningless. Proposing new associations is punishment enough. There’s no need to compound the pain with bathetic initials.
The Association for Reasonably Civil GMO Discussions. The debate about whether to use GMO-derived ingredients in foods, or include GMOs on labels, has devolved to sophistry. Last fall, Scientific American went Amish on GMOs by framing the issue as “Ultimately, we are deciding whether we will continue to develop an immensely beneficial technology or shun it based on unfounded fears.” On the other end of the polemic, the 600+ member Just Label It! campaign has four videos on its YouTube channel, including one with a pregnant women explaining that “Everything I am consuming directly affects this child,” followed by a senior woman describing how, after a heart attack, she started reading labels: “Lord, you are so surprised what’s in our food,” she says.
Not that there aren’t a few reasonably balanced voices out there. In a recent Food Product Design interview, Gregory Jaffe, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Biotechnology Project, was straightforward with his assessment of three popular GMO misconceptions, including whether GMOs make foods unsafe. The biotech-industry sponsored www.gmoanswers.com has an “ask the experts” feature which takes questions from all comers, including, “Why are all the answers on this site pro GMO? Is there no a single drawback to GMO foods over conventional food and organic food?”
Ideally, the ARCGD would act as a Truth-O-Meter to encourage constructive GMO debate from both sides until the market sorts out demand. Candidly, it would take Bill Gates-esque funding to respond to the pros and cons. Love to contact him for a donation, but his Foundation is already involved in a few other things.
The American Association for a Faster FDA. Waiting for an answer on an NDI? Have a labeling question? Need GMP guidance? The AAFF is for you. Relying on direct access to the Agency, the AAFF would help manufacturers and suppliers get decisive information within days, perhaps hours. Sounds crazy? Well, it is. But for the industry to attain its potential, and to promote transparency, quicker response is required from its chief regulatory agency.
The industry is hungry for answers. It’s no coincidence that 127 manufacturers and suppliers joined the Natural Products Association within six months after Daniel Fabricant became executive director and CEO. Before NPA, he was the director of the FDA’s dietary supplement programs division. He’d like every supplier to be an NPA member, and in fact set his sights on adding 105 new suppliers to NPA’s rolls. Don’t bet against him.
To be fair to FDA, the resources it has for supplements are scarce, and have been for decades. But the natural products industry is past its infancy, and deserves better. Why not an association to nudge things along?
The National Association for New Associations Association. It had to be said. Forgive me.