For a number of years, Duffy MacKay of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) has been walking the trade show floor of SupplySide West in Las Vegas to monitor booths for illegal—and sometimes shocking—claims promoting ingredients.
In 2012, VIRGO—the media and exhibitions company that London-based Informa PLC acquired in 2014—first introduced the SupplySide West Compliance Program to strengthen self-regulation in the food and dietary supplement industries. MacKay was among a group of volunteers who vetted signs and marketing materials for drug claims and other inappropriate statements that could attract the unwelcome attention of federal regulators and even result in a warning letter.
He observed plenty to keep him busy.
“The first year, I got so tired of trying to write everything down, I just started taking photos from my phone to capture the volume of drug claims," MacKay recalled in an email to INSIDER. “Some of these were clearly international suppliers that may sell to international markets where these claims are allowed, others were under the impression that B-to-B claims [were] exempt."
VIRGO became proactive, launching a section of the event website dedicated to compliance, sharing resources with exhibitors from INSIDER, regulatory agencies and industry associations, and reiterating the global nature of the show. All of these efforts helped educate exhibitors and the industry alike, and the compliance program may be achieving one of its intended objectives: deterring exhibitors from making unlawful claims.
“After several years of walking the show floor and talking to vendors about non-compliant claims, we see a clear improvement," said MacKay, CRN’s senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs. “Most claims we find now are borderline things like inflammation."
Last week marked the 20th anniversary of SupplySide West and the fifth year of the compliance program.
On Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in support of the compliance program, a team of industry attorneys and other experts congregated at the entrance to the exhibit hall. It was 7 a.m. in Las Vegas, and the vast trade show floor hadn’t yet opened to the roughly 15,000 SupplySide West participants.
Eventually, the entire team of compliance officers trickled in: attorneys Steven Shapiro and Marc Ullman of Rivkin Radler LLP; lawyer Justin Prochnow of Greenberg Traurig LLP; CRN representatives MacKay, Andrea Wong (vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs) and Rend Al-Mondhiry (associate general counsel); and attorneys Jennifer Adams and Rachel Gartner of Amin Talati & Upadhye LLC. A trio of Informa Exhibitions’ employees joined the volunteers: Heather Granato, vice president of content, Health & Nutrition; Alyssa Sanchez, education coordinator; and this blogger.
With caffeine in hand (from legal sources), the volunteers fanned out to review signs and marketing materials on the trade show floor, where more than 1,200 companies were showcasing their ingredients and services.
One claim in particular caught my attention; it was related to cancer in spite of FDA’s repeated admonitions in warning letters and federal regulations that supplements cannot diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Fortunately, the compliance team observed relatively few shocking claims.
On a trade show floor with around 1,200 exhibitors, Granato reported that most of the roughly 60 claims identified by the compliance team “were not egregious and didn’t require significant action."
Kelly Ridley, chief financial officer of Informa’s Global Health & Nutrition Network, described as “extremely helpful" virtually all the exhibitors that she and Sabrina Wolf, human resources director of Informa’s Global Health & Nutrition Network, approached after potential issues were flagged by the compliance team. Ridley and Wolf reached out to exhibitors on the trade show floor, requesting changes to signage and marketing materials in response to problematic claims identified by the compliance team. Most of the exhibitors who were contacted used white tape to cover claims, Ridley reported.
Jon Benninger, Informa Exhibitions’ vice president of health & nutrition, supported the introduction of the compliance program five years ago and helped to launch SupplySide West 20 years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Since we entered this market in 1996, we have been dedicated to ensuring the information provided by our company and our customers—whether at events or via media—is compliant with federal regulations," Benninger said in a statement. “When we introduced our first publication, Health Supplement Retailer, we had a process in place to review print ads and address issues of non-compliance. We have done so with our media since the late 1990s, and expanded this into our event as it is the responsible way to demonstrate the effectiveness of self-regulation."
CRN’s MacKay commended Informa for introducing, and continuing to operate, the compliance program. “Self-regulatory programs like this play an important role in increased industry compliance, improved trust, and ultimately, they benefit the consumer," he concluded.