Editor’s 5 takeaways from 22nd annual ICSB

From visiting William Faulkner’s grave to hobnobbing with new and old faces, an editor explains what he liked about the 22nd annual International Conference on the Science of Botanicals.

Josh Long, Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider

April 22, 2024

4 Min Read
On Thursday, April 18, at the 22nd International Conference of the Science of Botanicals, Ikhlas Khan of the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the University of Mississippi roasted many of his fellow attendees.

Last week, for the first time since I started reporting on the dietary supplement industry well over a decade ago, I had the chance to attend the International Conference on the Science of Botanicals (ICSB) in Oxford, Mississippi.

The conference — celebrating its 22nd year in 2024 — is supported by a cooperative agreement between the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy and the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Natural products researcher Ikhlas A. Khan, Ph.D., runs NCNPR, and his right-hand man (NCNPR’s assistant director) is Amar Chittiboyina, Ph.D. Both men didn’t hesitate to introduce themselves to me, which had the effect of making a first-comer feel welcome in a crowd composed of researchers, scientists, regulators, industry and other stakeholders.

Below are five takeaways from the event.

1. ICSB offers multiple opportunities for professionals from different walks of life to become acquainted in casual environments. Group dinners and cocktails. Check. Bowling. Check. Famous roast session led by Khan. Check.

2. Having grown up in New England, and then resided for most of my adulthood in Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming, I’m not exactly an afficionado of the Deep South and didn’t quite know what to expect in Mississippi. Oxford greatly exceeded my expectations. Unlike the brown of the Colorado plains, there are green, mature trees everywhere that invigorate the spirit, hills, and a charming and clean-as-a-whistle “square,” where it seems everyone — including the college kids — are dressed to the nines. During a pleasant walk, my colleagues and I visited the cemetery where the novelist William Faulker is buried. Bottles of empty whiskey and pennies line the gravestone of the author of “The Sound and the Fury,” who reportedly once said (upon resigning from his job as postmaster at the University of Mississippi), “I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.”


3. From sessions on science and regulations to an overview of the botanical market presented by Bill Giebler (content and insights director of Informa’s Nutrition Business Journal), the educational content at ICSB was diverse and dynamic. Perhaps my favorite talk of the entire week was one given by Bill Gurley, Ph.D., principal scientist at the National Center for Natural Products Research. Truth be told, before hearing from Gurley, I was generally clueless about the vital role of NCNPR in promoting natural products research and working with regulators. Gurley is well spoken, humorous and seems like the kind of guy who wouldn’t fail to entertain at a party.

4. At ICSB, you’re bound to run into a lot of scientists and other professionals from the Food and Drug Administration, which isn’t a surprise considering the cooperative agreement between NCNPR and CFSAN. Shame on me as a supposed member of the Fourth Estate for saying this, but by and large, I found these people to be approachable and pleasant. One FDA official looked at me a bit like I was a wacko when I asked her if she would be amenable to an interview, then walked off without giving me any answer, but my recollection of events is perhaps due to my own insecurities rather than reality. Another FDA employee actually thanked me for asking a question during a session focused on new dietary ingredients, which is possibly the first time in my professional life that a government employee expressed gratitude to me for doing my job. Another FDAer — Greg Noonan, Ph.D., director of the Office of Regulatory Science and formerly with the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs — was a down-to-earth gentleman who I appreciated becoming acquainted with.

5. ICSB isn’t a place to arrange 900 meetings in advance and run around like Mike the Headless Chicken. One must allow time for providence or serendipity. You will meet new people, inevitably bump into industry legends like American Botanical Council (ABC) founder and executive director Mark Blumenthal, and engage in intriguing conversations about work and life. Perhaps, if you are really lucky, or unlucky, Ikhlas Khan will roast you at Thursday’s dinner, where I had the pleasure of sitting next to the former acting director of the National Institutes of Health, Joseph Betz.

In closing, ICSB and Oxford far surpassed my expectations. I got a taste of authentic southern hospitality from not just the organizers of the event but the locals as well. Thanks y’all for reading.

Read more about:

Supplement science

About the Author(s)

Josh Long

Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider, Informa Markets Health and Nutrition

Josh Long directs the online news, feature and op-ed coverage at Natural Products Insider, which targets the health and wellness industry. He has been reporting on developments in the dietary supplement industry for over a decade, with a focus on regulatory issues, including at the Food and Drug Administration.

He has moderated and/or presented at industry trade shows, including SupplySide East, SupplySide West, Natural Products Expo West, NBJ Summit and the annual Dietary Supplement Regulatory Summit.

Connect with Josh on LinkedIn and ping him with story ideas at [email protected]

Education and previous experience

Josh majored in journalism and graduated from Arizona State University the same year "Jake the Snake" Plummer led the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law, was admitted in 2008 to practice law in the state of Colorado and spent a year clerking for a state district court judge.

Over more than a quarter century, he’s written on various topics for newspapers and business-to-business publications – from the Yavapai in Arizona and a controversial plan for a nuclear-waste incinerator in Idaho to nuanced issues, including FDA enforcement of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

Since the late 1990s, his articles have been published in a variety of media, including but not limited to, the Cape Cod Times (in Massachusetts), Sedona Red Rock News (in Arizona), Denver Post (in Colorado), Casper Star-Tribune (in Wyoming), now-defunct Jackson Hole Guide (in Wyoming), Colorado Lawyer (published by the Colorado Bar Association) and Nutrition Business Journal.

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the health and nutrition industry.
Join 37,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like