Naturex battles botanical adulteration with supply chain security

Saw Palmetto harvesting

High-priced botanicals like bilberry and saw palmetto continue to attract counterfeiters and adulterers, meaning supply chain integrity is more important than ever, the world’s biggest herbal extract player has said.

Like other global botanical suppliers Indena and Sabinsa, France-based Naturex is trumpeting its own stringent supply chain control to assure its customers of the authenticity of its wares and sound the bell to potential adulterers that their efforts will be detected with criminal prosecution a real possibility.

R&D director Antoine Bily told us the Avignon-based firm deals with “hundreds of suppliers and growers” managed out of eight global purchasing offices. In each case strict cultivation guidelines are written into contracts with about 350 different ‘methods of analyses’ used to verify purchased materials. These include High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography (HPTLC), High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), and Gas Chromatography (GC). 

Crime and punish

Testing is carried out on every single batch received, and when adulterated product is detected, action is immediate and sometimes severe.

“When it comes to adulteration it is a race between the technology to adulterate and the technology to detect,” Bily said. “And the detection technology is getting better every day. Take bilberry – it is so much easier to detect adulteration today which is really changing that market as adulteration has been a real problem there.”

“But normally we try to communicate with the growers when we detect a problem. Or issue a customer complaint and ask them to explain it. We have changed some suppliers, instigated prosecution in others. In some cases we end the contracts.”

“But by getting these messages out it helps to create a better market. It brings pressure on adulterers and can help solve the problem.”

In the field

The firm is also active in ensuring the quality of the plants and crops grown by the farmers it works with

“We work very closely with our farmers and growers,” Bily said. “We send agronomists to work with them to improve growing methods. We advise them on the use of pesticides. We will often pay a higher price to ensure quality or on occasion provide financial support or pay in advance.”

Other botancials that have encountered adulteration include black cohosh, curcumin and ginseng. Naturex said it has developed an exclusive method for distinguishing between Asian and US black cohosh rhizomes. 

Its 15 global factories are certified according to one of the following GMP standards: Global Food Safety Initiative Scheme (FSSC 22000, BRC, IFS), NSF International standard for dietary supplements or GMP (ICH Q7A) according to pharmaceutical guidelines. 

Groups like the American Botanical Council and the American Herbal Pharmacopoiea (AHP) have conducted much work in the area of adulteration, some of which can be found here.

"We are currently working on additional publications on adulterated botanicals and their extracts, which will be announced in coming months," said Mark Blumenthal, ABC founder and executive director and editor-in-chief of HerbalGram and HerbClip.

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