Inter-collaborative Proficiency Program for the Analysis of Natural Health Products
The Science Council of British Columbia, Health Products and Functional Food Program
The British Columbian HPFF industry has suffered a substantial setback in the last two years as consumer confidence about product quality has declined in response to negative media reports on products that do not meet their label claims. The resulting oversupply of crops has hit producers hard, since most crops require an investment of 2-7 years before they may be harvested. Manufacturers have also suffered significant losses. The quality claims that have formed the basis for differentiating otherwise generic products now appear to be a liability.
Product quality was a key objective in the HPFF-IA strategic plan. More specifically, Industry Alliance members such as the BC Herb Growers and the Ginseng Growers have identified unreliability in lab results as a significant industry obstacle. In 2001, a lab proficiency program sponsored by the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries was initiated by BCIT’s Natural Health and Food Products Research Group (NRG). The analytical results amongst the participating laboratories differed by up to 40 per cent. The BC analytical laboratories were subsequently surveyed and a second blind sample trial was conducted with much greater success (6-9% Relative Standard Deviation). This project is designed to fill that crucial gap by providing the infrastructure that the industry needs to address the issue of product quality and lab proficiency. All industry stakeholders are seriously suffering from this problem, and the impact will become even more profound in January 2004 when the new regulations come into effect.
We propose to conduct a provincial quality program that will specifically address this industry crisis. The program will have three components: methods validation (MV), reference materials (RM), and Lab proficiency (LP). In the MV component, existing standards and methods will be collected and assessed. The most robust and cost-effective methods will undergo inter-laboratory validation. Similarly, the RM component will involve the collection and assessment of quality standards and raw material samples which will be used in the MV and to produce authenticated reference standards for use by industry. The laboratory proficiency (LP) component will focus upon capacity building amongst BC laboratories and objective, scientifically robust assessments of the proficiency of BC analytical laboratories. The participating labs will be required to demonstrate their ability to produce consistently accurate results.