ABC Expanded Educational Mission in 2021 with More to Come
The nonprofit continues its commitment to science-based herbal medicinal products and practices, supporting an authentic, sustainable, and regenerative global value network
By Mark Blumenthal
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was published on NutraIngredients-USA.com on December 23, 2021. The article has been revised and updated for HerbalEGram.
In 2021, the American Botanical Council (ABC), in its 34th year, continued its unique nonprofit research and educational mission on many fronts.
Issue 132 of ABC’s peer-reviewed journal HerbalGram included botanical expert Steven Foster’s 32-page article on saw palmetto (Serenoa repens, Arecaceae). The article discussed the history and other aspects of saw palmetto in Florida and contained some never-before-published information on this important native American medicinal plant.
ABC’s widely cited Herb Market Report for 2020, published in HerbalGram issue 131, documented the record increase in annual herbal supplement retail sales in the United States — a whopping 17.3% from 2019, with elder berry (Sambucus spp., Viburnaceae) products ranking first in the mainstream retail channel and second in the natural channel. Due to the rapid increase in sales, ABC focused on the authenticity of elder berry and, for the first time in a peer-reviewed scientific publication, in 2021 documented the adulteration of elder berry raw materials and finished consumer products and summarized analytical reports from eight herb industry laboratories in an article in HerbalGram issue 130.
ABC was one of the first entities in the botanical sector that predicted supply issues in the global market in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and increased consumer demand for immune-enhancing botanical products. In April 2020, ABC cautioned its industry members and other stakeholders about the potential for increased levels of adulteration and fraud and encouraged parties to enhance appropriate quality-control activities to confirm the authenticity of botanical ingredients.
ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program
Vigilance regarding potential and actual adulteration of botanical materials is one of the key areas of ABC’s contributions to the global medicinal plant community and is highlighted by the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) receiving the Best of the Industry award in the “Service Provider” category from Nutritional Outlook magazine in December 2021. BAPP completed its 11th year in 2021, having published a total of 69 peer-reviewed publications. These include a Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletin on pomegranate (Punica granatum, Lythraceae), Laboratory Guidance Documents (LGDs) on olive (Olea europaea, Oleaceae) oil and St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, Hypericaceae), three Botanical Adulterants Monitor newsletters, and the elder berry adulteration article mentioned above, all of which were published in 2021.
BAPP publications scheduled for release in early 2022 include bulletins on the adulteration of eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus, Araliaceae) and saffron (Crocus sativus, Iridaceae) and an LGD on the widespread adulteration of ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, Ginkgoaceae) leaf extract. In addition, in 2022, BAPP plans to hold meetings of stakeholders from academia and industry to share information on recent and future publications and invite input and suggestions on topics for research and publication.
The long-awaited finalized “BAPP SOP for the Disposal/Destruction of Irreparably Defective Articles” also will be released in 2022. Throughout 2022, BAPP will encourage individual botanical ingredient and supplement manufacturing companies, as well as trade associations, to publicly adopt the SOP (standard operating procedure) and incorporate its provisions into their supplier agreements and overall good manufacturing practices. The BAPP SOP is designed to empower industry members to take more control of the botanical ingredient supply by removing material that is deemed “irreparably defective” due to adulteration or contamination.
BAPP has been financially underwritten or endorsed by more than 200 herb and dietary supplement industry companies, trade associations, and nonprofit organizations in the United States and internationally. Industry stakeholders report that they use BAPP publications to create new or revise existing ingredient specifications and that these enhanced specifications sometimes lead them to change ingredient suppliers. The net result is that more dietary supplement products that contain authentic botanical ingredients are available to consumers.
Sustainable Herbs Program
One major topic of herb industry conversations and concerns is sustainability. Herb, dietary supplement, and herbal tea industry members are becoming more aware of the need for sustainable and appropriately curated sourcing. For more than three years, ABC’s Sustainable Herbs Program (SHP) has educated and inspired industry members in this area. In early 2021, SHP issued its “Sustainability & Regenerative Practices Toolkit” to help industry members actively become more sustainable. This free and resource-rich document has been downloaded by hundreds of people worldwide. A new, expanded SHP Toolkit 2.0 will be launched in early 2022.
As part of its mission to increase the consciousness of people in the global botanical industry, SHP prefers the term “value network” rather than “supply chain.” My longtime friend Cal Bewicke, CEO of Ethical Naturals, who introduced me to the idea, explained: Supply “chain” is an overly-linear concept, while “network” more accurately describes the supply provenance of many botanicals in trade. Many come from numerous harvesters, growers, suppliers, processors, and/or producers and become mixed with lots from various sources at some point in their journey to the end consumer.
It’s about more than simply “supply.” To us at ABC’s SHP, it’s about the value that people add to botanical materials as they move along the network. Along the network, people add value to the materials, and that human input warrants the awareness, concerns, and respect of those who are further along the network. How can we ensure equitable and appropriate compensation for the people who produce and process many of the botanicals on which the burgeoning industry relies?
Consumer awareness of and concerns about sustainability are a growing and evolving trend. This has been documented in recent market reports that show increased consumer willingness to pay higher prices for products from companies that are perceived to operate sustainably/regeneratively and products that contain sustainably produced ingredients and/or are sold in sustainable, earth-friendly packaging. ABC and SHP have reported on this growing trend.
ABC’s SHP conducted 16 free educational webinars in 2021 with more than 12,000 registered participants and more than 50,000 total viewers (including those who accessed the archived versions) from over 80 countries. The webinars covered a wide range of subjects dealing with people-plant relationships and interactions, from ethnobotanical subjects and the survival of plants to cultural issues to developing sustainable and regenerative supplies of medicinal plants.
In 2021, SHP also conducted the first in a series of “brown bag” seminars with its expanding group of Underwriters. These seminars have created a forum for suppliers and manufacturers to share their commitments to creating more sustainable and regenerative value networks for all interested parties. These activities will continue in 2022.
Another important accomplishment for ABC in 2021 was the publication of SHP Director Ann Armbrecht’s, PhD, book The Business of Botanicals: Exploring the Healing Promise of Plant Medicines in a Global Industry (Chelsea Green Publishing). As I expressed in my review in HerbalGram issue 132, the book “is like no other book of which I am aware. It is in a category of its own.” I recommend it not only for herb enthusiasts, but also for “those who come from a background of finance, consumer packaged goods, and private equity who increasingly represent the current ownership and management of many herb and dietary supplement companies.”
My Role at ABC
In 2021, ABC began searching for a person to join its management team and, who, in time, with mentoring from the current ABC leadership team and me, would become the executive director. This shift would allow me to focus more time on ABC’s various educational publications and programs and related activities in the US and international botanical medicine community. To be clear, I have no intention of retiring from ABC. (We don’t use the “r” word at ABC.) I just want to shuffle my responsibilities a bit and make room for some dynamic new leadership for ABC’s future successes. ABC will continue this search in 2022 and looks forward to the new opportunities this will provide for us and our herbal community.
Other 2021 ABC accomplishments included the following:
- ABC’s Chief Science Officer, Stefan Gafner, PhD, was elected to the advisory board of the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research (GA) and co-authored a peer-reviewed paper, which was published in Phytotherapy Research, on the available research on botanical ingredients used during the pandemic, and clinical implications, especially regarding safety, of using these ingredients.
- ABC awarded six Botanical Excellence Awards to individuals and companies for their valuable contributions to the herbal and botanical community during its first-ever virtual Celebration event, which is available on YouTube.
- ABC hosted its first virtual HerbDay event featuring a full day of educational content, including video presentations, virtual herb walks, spotlights on specific herbs, downloadable materials, links to useful resources, and a little music.
- ABC’s Food as Medicine Initiative published its 68th article on the health benefits of specific plant foods. These articles are consistently some of the most popular features of our monthly HerbalEGram electronic newsletter, and some of them are now summarized on page 80 of HerbalGram.
- The 77th herb was adopted on ABC’s robust HerbMedPro database through the ABC Adopt-an-Herb Program.
- ABC issued 15 press releases on a wide variety of topics. As a reliable third-party educational resource, ABC helps the mainstream and industry trade media better understand and/or interpret scientific, regulatory, and market information on medicinal plants.
- ABC published 4 issues of HerbalGram, 12 issues of HerbalEGram, 51 issues of Herbal News & Events, 384 HerbClips, 6 Food as Medicine articles, 3 Botanical Adulterants Monitor newsletters, 2 BAPP Laboratory Guidance Documents, 1 BAPP Adulteration Report, 1 BAPP Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletin, and 10 SHP newsletters.
- And so much more.
ABC is gearing up for a vibrant and robust 2022 with continued vital and relevant research and educational activities to serve the interests of the botanical medicine community, including responsible members of the herb industry, and help enhance the quality and benefits of herbal products for consumer health, naturally.