Don’t leave it all to a few heroes

“Some people join associations to make problems go away. It’s not enough. You’ve got to engage.”

How true and how right I can imagine quite a few of you thinking.

And that’s almost the point – we’re quite good at thinking and offering opinions but not always so good at the doing (I do appreciate the irony of what I’ve just said, kettle, black and all that).

But back to that quote, which comes from a talk given by nutrition policy expert Simon Pettman at last week’s Natural Products Scandinavia (see story).

Pettman was actually re-quoting the director of a European trade association to make some points of his own. His subject was the EU Health Claims Regulation (NHCR) – but he also talked much more widely about regulation. It was one of life’s certainties, he said, and there was no avoiding it. What was important was that industry understood it properly, managed it effectively and challenged it robustly when it was plain bad regulation.

So, how do you know that you are dealing with bad regulation? A reliable indicator, said Pettman, was when you have higher levels of non-compliance than you had with the previous regulation! And the NHCR was an almost perfect example of how a well-intentioned piece of legislation can degenerate into something which ends up achieving the opposite of its stated aims (as Tom Johnsson, a prominent figure on the Swedish health food scene noted, “this regulation isn’t removing cowboys, it’s creating them”).

The NHCR was a “brutal reality check” for the supplements industry, said Simon Pettman. And this wasn’t just because of the Regulation’s flawed processes, the thousands of lost claims, and disproportionate burden on industry – it also placed into the cold light of day the need to “look long and hard about who we are, to invest more in expertise and gain the respect of officials”. Large parts of the industry had been all too happy to leave all the hard work to “a few heroes – the small group that had carried the weight of the whole industry on their shoulders”.

The prize for building a clearer vision for ourselves and working better together as an industry is potentially enormous, says Pettman –“a €10 billion industry in Europe, with huge growth potential”. But if we think we can still leave it to a few heroes, we won’t be sharing in that prize.

By Jim Manson

Natural Products editor and environment journalist
Jim Manson is editor of Natural Products magazine. He’s written widely on environment and development issues for specialist magazines and national media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian and Time Out.