Quality control has been an issue in the dietary supplement and herbal medicine industries for many years. Even with the FDA’s new Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guidelines and promises of greater enforcement, products of questionable quality abound in the market.
In recent years, the supply chain has been literally flooded with low-priced raw materials produced or grown in countries with lax agricultural and manufacturing standards. Some US manufacturers, feeling the bite of the recession, are cutting costs by buying up poor quality ingredients and hoping nobody notices.
This, say leaders in the field, is ruining the trust between manufacturers, consumers and clinicians.
Gaia Herbs (www.gaiaherbs.com), a Brevard, NC, grower and manufacturer of botanical medicines, has one of the most stringent quality control systems in the industry. Herbalist Ric Scalzo, who founded the company in 1987, knows what its like to treat ailing people and the level of trust involved. From the outset, Gaia was committed to total quality assurance and good environmental stewardship from farm to pharmacy. Mr. Scalzo hopes to raise standards for the entire field.
The company grows much of its own raw plant materials on its 250-acre certified organic farm in western North Carolina. Other ingredients are sourced from similarly committed organic growers. The company specializes in herbal liquid extracts, produced at its own facility, and its innovative condition-specific multi-herb formulas. For the most part, Gaia staff members control the process from planting of seeds to sealing of packages.
The latest step in Gaia’s quality drive is its “Meet Your Herbs” traceability program. Each package of the company’s products includes a batch ID number which, when typed into the “Meet Your Herbs” finder on the company’s website, gives consumers thorough details about everything in the bottle, including the date on which it was made, extensive background on each herb in the formula, and details on what the finished product was tested for (ie, microbial contaminants, lead & other toxins, bioactive marker compounds) and by whom.
Transparency is one of the company’s watchwords, and Gaia is the first, and to date the only medicinal herb company to provide practitioners and consumers with source certifications, identity validation data, phytochemical analysis, and other QC details.
During Holistic Primary Care’s visit to Gaia’s farm and production facility, Mr. Scalzo said the company has had a longstanding commitment to meticulous quality control and rigorous batch testing. But all the testing in the world means little if consumers can’t access the information and see for themselves what’s in the products they buy—and what’s not.
The “Meet Your Herbs” system, which is also accessible as an iPhone app, is an attempt to bridge that gap, and hopefully rebuild the trust and value proposition with practitioners and users of herbal medicine.