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Nonprofit Collaboration Addresses Adulteration of Botanical Ingredients

American Botanical Council, American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Product Research Join Forces to Educate on Supplement Adulteration Problems, Challenges, and Solutions Responsible parties in the herbal and dietary supplement community have become increasingly concerned about the suspected and confirmed practice of adulteration of numerous ingredients. The existence of adulteration raises questions about the identity and quality of some popular herbal ingredients sold in dietary supplements in the United States and in other botanical products (e.g., medicines, cosmetics, etc.) in global markets. The American Botanical Council (ABC), the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), and the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) have initiated a large-scale program to educate members of the herbal and dietary supplement industry on adulteration.

“There is a major problem in the global herb and dietary supplements industry in which there may be a persistent trend related to the availability of adulterated herbs, herbal extracts, essential oils, and other plant-derived dietary ingredients,” said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal.

Although not all cases of botanical adulteration are deliberate, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program will focus on both accidental adulteration as a result of poor quality control procedures, as well as the intentional adulteration of plant-based products for financial gain. Earlier this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public conference on this issue, which they named “economically motivated adulteration” (EMA). This industry-funded program hopefully can serve as a self-regulatory mechanism for industry to address adulteration problems through education rather than federal regulation.

Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines adulteration as the “Addition of an impure, cheap, or unnecessary ingredient to cheat, cheapen, or falsify an ingredient or preparation.” The Code also considers a product adulterated “if any substance has been added thereto or mixed or packed therewith so as to increase its bulk or weight, or reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear better or of greater value than it is.”1

According to AHP Executive Director and herbalist Roy Upton, “With GMPs in full force there are now a lot of companies realizing that the supply chain for ingredients that pass identity and quality good manufacturing practice requirements has shrunk dramatically. Ingredients that used to readily pass manufacturer specifications are now failing when proper identity and quality tests are applied.”

“We are pleased to partner with ABC and AHP in this effort to raise awareness about adulteration of botanicals and the methods/principles that can minimize this problem,” said Ikhlas Khan, PhD, assistant director of NCNPR and the director of the Center’s botanical supplement authentication program. Prof. Khan is an internationally recognized expert on laboratory analytical methods to identify botanical materials. The Center has a cooperative agreement with FDA to identify botanicals, provide reference materials, and develop appropriate analytical methods.

The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program aims to help protect consumers and responsible members of the herb and dietary supplement industry, as well as other manufacturers, by producing a series of detailed white papers, which will serve as an authoritative source of information on botanical adulterants with references to published official and unofficial analytical methods for companies and/or third-party laboratories to utilize to help detect the presence (or absence) of known adulterants.

In the program’s first published paper (available on page 42 in this issue of HerbalGram), “A Brief History of Adulteration of Herbs, Spices, and Botanical Drugs,” noted botanical expert Steven Foster provides a history of accidental and intentional adulteration of botanical ingredients spanning the past 2 millennia. Foster is a well-known author, photographer, and consultant on herbs and is currently Chairman of the Board of Trustees of ABC.

—Tyler Smith