Improving safety and compliance in a complex supply chain with SSCI

In the winter of 2015, the New York Attorney General (NYAG) sought to confirm the identity of botanicals in various dietary supplements sold at four national retailers in the United States. Based on a DNA barcoding method, the NYAG claimed that several products failed to contain the plant materials listed on the product’s label

Guru Ramanathan, Chief Innovation Officer, GNC Corporation, notes: "Their test failed to consider the fact that the products contained highly purified extracts and would require alternate “fit for purpose” methods to ID them. Although the utility of the test methods were a source of controversy, as an industry we are committed to ensuring that sufficient measures are in place to ensure the authenticity and purity of our products."

Key learnings

The NYAG’s investigation brought leadership within the supplement industry together, whereby three additional learnings were identified. First, we should develop harmonised guidelines to address the dietary supplement supply chain from beginning to end (from farm to finished product on the retail shelf).

Second, we should develop harmonised audit standards, interpretation of findings and auditor training for all stages of the supply chain, including raw material through finished products manufacturing.

And, third, we need a collaborative approach to partner with and educate the many emerging influencers in the supplement industry, such as state regulators, academics, etc., who influence consumer perception of the products and the industry as a whole.

A retailer-led, industry driven coalition

By 2016, the Supplement Safety & Compliance Initiative (SSCI) was founded to be a non-profit retailer-led and industry driven global dietary supplement safety and compliance benchmark, with the objective of recognising various supplement safety, authenticity and compliance standards around the world for equivalency. The intent of SSCI is to be a proactive solution that enhances consumer confidence in products offered at SSCI participating retailers globally.

Harmonisation through benchmarking

Among the many standards present in food manufacturing today, third-party certification schemes are increasingly used and accepted widely. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), launched in 2000, was the first organisation to create a harmonised scheme to benchmark food safety standards, leading to improved food safety across the global food supply chain while meeting the demands of a globalised market.

Given the substantially similar harmonisation needs and complex supply chain of the dietary supplement industry, and to meet the demands of a globalised market to improve dietary supplement safety, SSCI was formed, modelled after GFSI, and the SSCI Benchmark was created to enable manufacturers to establish compliance with global supplement safety and quality management standards.

By ensuring equivalence between safety management systems, we can reduce risks and drive global change, all while eliminating redundancy in certification and ultimately improving operational efficiency and costs.

SSCI is able to achieve these goals because of its unique stakeholder platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing. SSCI’s working groups, technical groups and benchmark committee brings together stakeholders from all parts of the supply chain: retailers, manufacturers, raw material suppliers, auditing bodies and trade associations.

Global supply chain improvements and regulatory compliance

Through the work of various SSCI working groups, global good manufacturing practices, good agricultural and collection practices, quality and testing guidelines are being harmonised into one SSCI benchmark. This allows certifying programme owners and certification bodies to understand the gaps in their assessments and, at the same time, eliminates redundancy in certification.

Through these efforts our industry will see great improvements in safety and compliance of the dietary supplement industry on a global scale as a result of addressed gaps and simplification of certification. Operational efficiency savings and cost savings from the reduction of redundant audits and certifications can be returned to systems to improve quality and safety.

In summary, the goal of SSCI is to create a harmonised benchmark that audit bodies and certifying programme owners can include in their standards, which will provide assurances of equivalency among certifications; so, once recognised, they are accepted by all.

The SSCI benchmarking documents were released for public comment in the spring of 2019, subsequently closed on 1 May, and the program will soon be open for auditing bodies and certifying programme owners to submit their audit schemes for benchmarking.

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