How regenerative agriculture ‘supplements’ health

Pressure from consumers and regulators is changing how animal-derived supplements can be made in the United States.

Karen Howard, CEO and executive director

January 17, 2019

5 Min Read

Myriad regenerative agriculture conferences are popping up, complete with bucolic photos of lush grazing lands. Some of the health and nutrition industry’s champions are investing in a movement that is capturing hearts. Young men and women are stepping into ranching and farming to make a difference, carefully tending to the limited resources we have for the sake of our food supply and the generations to come. It is reminiscent of the dietary supplement movement at its inception, driven by a mission to maximize nature’s restorative health attributes.

On the surface, this movement seems to have little relation to the integrity of the dietary supplement supply chain. “Dig” a little deeper into the issues relating to soil health, and you’ll find that the connection to nutrient health is profound, and science is moving quickly to ascertain the impact of these practices on nutrient density. Now add consumer interest, the momentum of which will drive industry commitment to new standards. Like organic, gluten free, and non-GMO, regenerative agriculture is imbedding itself into system purchasing patterns. Organic & Natural Health is focused on educating its members on ways to source ingredients derived through organic and regenerative means.

To CAFO or not to CAFO

USDA defines concentrated animal feed operation (CAFO) as: “[a] farm in which animals are raised in confinement—that has over 1,000 ‘animal units’ confined for over 45 days a year. An animal unit is an animal equivalent of 1,000 pounds live weight.”

Unlike the federal organic standard, these animals are not required to be raised in living conditions that accommodate natural behaviors (including the ability to graze on pasture), they are not fed 100 percent organic feed and forage; in fact, they get biproducts, such as grain and candy. They are administered antibiotics and/or hormones on a regular basis.

Consumers are moving away from consumption of CAFO meat. According to Nielsen data, grass-fed beef sales reached US$272 million in 2016, doubling every year since 2012. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) reported that sales of organic meat and poultry increased 17.5 percent in 2017 for total sales of $1.2 billion. No surprise, consumers have questions regarding the source of some of their most beloved supplements.

  • In 2017, annual sales of collagen supplements, derived from beef and poultry, reached $98 million, and are projected to continue to increase at a double-digit growth of 30 percent, according to New Hope Network’s 2018 Dietary Supplement Business Report.

  • In 2016, U.S. sales of bone broth (beef and chicken) tripled to $20 million in just one year, according to SPINS data. A comprehensive trend and sales forecast is due in February 2019.

  • The use of eggshell membrane derivatives in the U.S. nutraceuticals industry is expected to grow to $1.8 billion by 2028, according to a market study by Fact.MR., far outpacing organic availability. Soluble eggshell membrane powder remains the highest selling product, followed by eggshell membrane collagen.

  • The market for whey protein ingredients is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of roughly 9.1 percent over the next five years, according to a Global Info Research study. Sales in the U.S. totaled $9.2 billion in 2017 and are predicted to reach $15.5 billion in 2023. On a bright note, globally, the organic whey protein market is poised to post a CAGR of more than 6.3 percent during 2019-2023.

A growing amount of product is labeled as grass-fed, which at face value appears to be the solution to the problem of a perceived, and likely real, issue with the quality of CAFO-derived products. Beware the pictures of pastures on South American websites. Cattle raised in feedlots, then put on pasture, does not equal grass-fed.

Further, imported meat need only be processed (not raised) in the United States to bear the phrase “Product of the USA.” And regenerative/organic products are not produced enough to support current label claims, much less meet increasing demand. Illegal? No. Fraudulent? Yes.

Does it matter?

Organizations like American Grassfed Association assert regenerative agricultural practices improve soil health, which translates to higher-quality, nutrient-dense food. From an environmental perspective, it may be our best opportunity to end land degradation and enable water management during droughts and floods. It’s thought to be a tool for carbon reduction. It is the conduit to biological diversity. A research study published in 2014 revealed “reductions in the abundance and presence of soil organisms results in the decline of multiple ecosystem functions, including plant diversity and nutrient cycling and retention” (Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Apr 8;111(14):5266-70). Study authors suggested that the key to maintaining functional ecosystems is dependent upon “below-ground biodiversity.” It’s time we tend to the Earth’s microbiome.

We face challenges in feeding the public’s desire for products that sustain their health and that of the planet. Producers lack infrastructure; the processors, boilers, driers and instantizers needed to convert product for nutraceutical use. Investment funding sources are limited. Government policy is lacking, and industry certifications not well known.

But, change is coming. Discussions are underway on how federal policy changes can generate economic improvements for small farms and rural communities. For instance, USDA is considering a petition to change “Product of the U.S.A.” for meat imports. Most importantly, consumers are affecting change with their wallets. Transparency is now a cornerstone of the dietary supplement world. Traceability yet another. Supplement brands have a new supply chain challenge to address in their GMPs (good manufacturing practices) and an interesting opportunity for investment. Curiosity will not kill this opportunity—complacency will.

Karen Howard is CEO and executive director of the Organic & Natural Health Association ( She has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and health care organizations to develop innovative health care policy and programs. Howard has held a variety of executive positions, and has policy expertise in integrative medicine, managed care, health care technology and mental health. She previously served as president of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC). Howard also served as executive director for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Schools.


About the Author(s)

Karen Howard

CEO and executive director, Organic and Natural Health Association

Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic and Natural Health Association, is a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and health care organizations to develop innovative health care policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, health care technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration. Prior to Organic and Natural Health, Howard served as executive director for both the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Schools. During her nearly 10-year tenure at AANP, she built a sustainable infrastructure, significantly improved financial performance, established a strong federal presence and supported multiple state association advocacy efforts for licensure. Also during this time, the naturopathic medicine profession established itself as a key component of comprehensive healthcare for the future. 

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