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Supplement Perspectives

Emptying the Notebook: GNC's Agreement with the NYAG

Pete Croatto just wrote a story about it. Here’s what he learned.

I spent two weeks writing a piece for “Natural Products INSIDER” on the road after New York State Attorney General’s agreement with GNC. It was fun. To call it challenging, however, would be an understatement—writing 1,000 words on this intense, thorny subject was like stuffing 15 pounds into a five-pound sack.

The article is scheduled to appear in NPI’s May/June issue, so in the name of news--and, I’ll be honest, synergy and self-promotion—I’d like to share some observations from the reporting side.

1.) The NYAG office is not terribly interested in communicating with the industry. Sources galore told me this. (CRN’s Steve Mister’s quotes in the article explain it all.) And consider this: I sent the NYAG office questions to answer weeks ago. I thought it would want an opportunity to spell out its plans. I’m still waiting for that email.

2.) What if Schneiderman loses interest in DNA barcode testing? A couple of sources brought up this point. I honestly have no idea what takes place. (Maybe if the NYAG had responded…) And this is more frustrating because it’s not as if there’s one universally valid method for evaluating botanicals. So, I guess, um, be prepared.

3.) No one can anticipate the aftermath. That’s the issue of writing a story like this. Nobody knows what the future holds. Everyone is dealing with hypotheticals, which makes this agreement so disconcerting: the outcomes don’t bode well. Reactions to the agreement varied from blithe concern to apocalyptic. I don’t understand “blithe concern.” For what its worth, people who have a long history with the supplements industry—including Marc Ullman and Suzanne Shelton—leaned toward the “apocalyptic” side of the spectrum.

4.) Daniel Fabricant still has a sense of humor. I interviewed Fabricant during  that whole “New York Times” FDA-NPA pipeline nonsense. Before our chat, I offered a few encouraging words, leading with “I saw that article in The Times.” His response: “We were in The Times?” Never change, Dan.

5.) Improving R&D isn’t the issue. George Pontiakos of BI Nutraceuticals and Fabricant made the point that the supplement industry has become more sophisticated on the R&D side. Companies that haven’t made that jump yet are pretty much toast. And I think it's safe to say that the industry knows more about R&D than Schneiderman.

I’m prone to agree. The companies that make crappy products are going to be pushed aside by FDA or FTC. (I think we’d all like that to be quicker, but that’s another story for another time.) The problem is, how do you get companies to care beyond making a profit? How do you get them to join an industry association? To become politically active? To think about the long-term? To think bigger?   

Here’s the real issue: How do you get such a big industry to move forward under one purpose, especially in a time of duress? 

It’s time to write that story. Now.

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