North American Herb Associations Push Best Practices To Guarantee Herbal Supplement Quality
Herbal supplements are different from most vitamin and mineral supplements. The herbs need to be grown rather than produced in a lab. This introduces a lot of additional variables.
Weather, proper irrigation and soil type are some considerations. The potential risk of contamination by heavy metals in the soil, chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides, and microbes are additional concerns. Together, these have put the agricultural practices of herbal supplement producers into the spotlight.
Years ago, standards for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) were established. These identified the many factors that could impact the quality and potency of herbs, giving guidelines on how best to address them. Some producers have embraced them immediately; others have moved more slowly.
In an effort to guarantee the quality of herbal supplements, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) and the Canadian Herb, Spice and Specialty Agriculture Association (HSSA) released a statement advocating for use of GACP, Good Agricultural and Collection Practices.[i] GACP and GAP are the same concept. They both define standards for the raising and harvesting of herbs.
The Need for Good Agricultural Practices
More and more, herbal product manufacturers source their material from companies around the globe. With different countries having different agricultural standards, soil qualities and infrastructure, this introduces potential areas that could impact quality into the supply chain. Quality challenges also become a concern for wild-crafted plant material. GACP provides a clear framework for growers, harvesters and processors to follow to reduce the chance of product contamination.
4 Principles of GACP
GACP defines 4 guiding principles which the AHPA and HSSA noted in their press release. These include:
- Plant identity, meaning the plants harvested are the correct plants
- Reliable botanical supplies, which means the companies supplying the herbs have the experience and knowledge to produce or find the best quality herbs
- Harvest and post-harvest processing, or handling of the herbs to protect quality and potency
- Training, employees at every stage of the supply chain need to know how to do their jobs in accordance with GACP standards
These principles were established more than a decade ago. Products which meet these standards also meet or exceed the standards established in countries around the world.
How to Help Ensure the Best Quality Herbal Supplements
Organizations like the AHPA and HSSA can advocate for GACP. Agencies like the World Health Organization or the FDA can promote the standards. Ultimately, however, producers of herbal supplements will more readily embrace GACP when consumers demand it.
GACP itself is meant to help consumers, patients and healthcare providers. Herbal products sourced from GACP compliant companies ensure they are free from contaminants and other harmful materials. It means they are grown under conditions to maximize their potency and effectiveness. The herbs are also shipped in a way that protects their quality in transit. Together, these guarantee a quality product.
For consumers, this means a supplement which will deliver the best benefit for their health. It also means their getting a better value for their investment.
Consumers can encourage producers and suppliers to embrace GACP by buying products sourced only from GACP companies. How can a consumer recognize a product like this? Companies who products meet these exacting standards will often place the GAP or GACP “stamp” on their product label, website and marketing materials.
If one doesn’t see the GAP or GACP label, they can also email or call their herbal supplement provider. If the provider offers different brands, request a list of the brands that meet this standard. Consumers can also check out brand websites for more details.