Let’s do a little time travel shall we? It is 1997, not particularly significant time travel I know, but bear with me. Grand Meadows has been in business a little over ten years but the market is becoming increasingly flooded with more and more horse supplements in every category. Horse joint supplements are exploding and numbered, back then, over 100, which was a huge change from a few years before when there were 3 joint supplements – Cosequin, Grand Flex and Flex Free. Life was simple back then….
So I decided as a little experiment to see how many of these new arrivals were up to snuff as it were. I tested 32 horse joint supplements to see if they matched label claim. I was pretty surprised to find that, out of 32 products tested, only 2 actually matched the label claim. It is important to understand that there has historically been very little regulatory oversight of the horse supplement business. Many of you who have been working with horses for a while will remember that product labels used to be a joke in terms of the transparency – what was in the product, how much of the active ingredients per serving for example?
Quite honestly I was pretty pissed that I was competing with companies that appeared to be mixing up their products in their garage or similar, slapping a label on it and selling it to tack shops, feed stores, catalogs etc. So Grand Meadows started an organization called the National Association of Equine Supplement Manufacturers (NAESM). I approached a number of manufacturers to see if we could meet to discuss ways to bring some accountability and transparency to the industry but no-one was really interested on the basis of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” I guess.
Life carried on but then a new President for AAFCO, which regulates feed State by State, decided to be much more aggressive in pushing stop sales on horse supplements containing any unapproved feed ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin etc. Suddenly I started getting calls and e-mails from the same companies that had ignored me in the past because they were worried about their ability to sell their joint supplements. Texas in particular would not allow horse joint supplements to be sold.
In 1999 I got together with some like- minded pet supplement manufacturers and we had a meeting in Chicago where we came up with a plan to engage with the regulatory agencies arrayed against us – AAFCO and FDA-CVM (Center for Veterinary Medicine). The document we came up with was called Compliance Plus and it was comprised of a lot of different elements to bring accountability and transparency to the animal health supplement industry. The presentation of this document to the regulatory agencies caused quite a furor as no-one had ever really done anything like that before – to act unilaterally in trying to police and instill quality and accountability in an industry.
One of the initiatives that really impressed the regulatory agencies was our development of an online adverse event reporting system – the first of its kind anywhere. We have granted the FDA-CVM exclusive access to billions of data bytes, whereby if a particular ingredient is attributed to a serious adverse event they can go in and see if there is any pattern emerging; we saw this in horses for example with the herb Comfrey and as a result NASC members were forbidden to use Comfrey in horse supplements.
Another important initiative is the Ingredient Risk Assessment Report where at present 649 ingredients are assessed as to their safety on a species specific basis.
NASC member products are subjected to random testing every year for different ingredients to see if they match label claim. Members are allowed a 10% variation on label claim but anything greater than that requires them to submit, within 21 days, an action plan to resolve the issue with a particular product(s). Sanctions increase when the same product is tested again if it fails to meet acceptable label claim values.
The NASC has also started a program whereby member companies must establish clear evidence of the purity and safety of the raw materials they are using in their products. In the past the raw material suppliers would send a shipment of a particular ingredient with a Certificate of Assay claiming the purity and safety of the ingredient. Now that is no longer the case and the importer has to conduct testing and provide the evidence of that testing to the manufacturer or risk losing the customer. This is resulting in a greater percentage of member companies passing their random product testing as they hold their raw material suppliers to a higher level of accountability.
The NASC has, over the course of its existence, probed and researched all the different issues associated with the manufacture, marketing and distribution of animal health supplements. Our mission, as I continue to serve on the Board of Directors of the NASC, is to continue to police our industry and to constantly strive to ensure that the animal health supplements produced by our member companies are safe and effective.
This is certainly a rather dry topic to write a blog about as many people reading this piece may not have been aware of the dark underbelly of the horse supplement business. It is however extremely important as regards the safety of your animal (s) and a source of confidence that a product manufactured by an NASC member company, carrying the NASC Seal, has been manufactured to a very high standard. As a result you can have confidence that you are not getting ripped off which was often the case in the past.