National Consumers League

Spreading consumer awareness about dietary supplements around the globe

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By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

NCL was invited to present at a conference on health and nutrition at the charming seaside town of Dalian, a one and a half hour flight east of Beijing. Our past work surveying consumers on dietary supplements and NCL’s focus on the safe use of medication, no doubt, generated the invitation. The tour guide described China’s shape on a map as that of a rooster, with Beijing being the eye and Dalian being the beak. So there I was in the rooster’s beak, meeting academics, scientists, community workers, and doctors from around the world.

Much to my surprise, the hosts of the conference included NCL’s presentation entitled “Dietary Supplements: What Consumers Should Know,” as one of the conference’s keynote addresses. That put me at the podium with seven other presenters, all of them men who were either doctors or academics. This was an eminent group: for example, another keynoter, Sir Roy Calne, a doctor at Cambridge University in the UK, had performed the first liver, heart, and other organ transplants during the 1960s.

From the outset, the connection between the different presentations seemed to be a stretch. Many of us found ourselves at this conference asking each other, how is it you came to be invited? No one was quite sure. But looking back over the past several days, I don’t think I’ve ever been with a group of such accomplished, smart, thoughtful, and interesting people. One group of presentations focused on reports and research in pediatrics. That brought together an incredible group of mostly female pediatricians including surgeons, pediatric cardiologists, radiologists, and many more who discussed issues ranging from child abuse to ER and child trauma. These women were uniformly impressive, friendly, and approachable. The nice thing, too, is that because I was the only female in the opening session and talked about the importance of consumer awareness and a consumer voice on dietary supplements (based on a terrific presentation that our staff prepared for me about dietary supplements and how they can be beneficial or dangerous), these women doctors instantly knew who I was, were grateful a woman was represented as a keynoter, and came to know and like the work NCL is doing to reach out to consumers.

I also had the chance to meet Australian Paul Miller, who is with the Olive Council in his country. He is working to help expose and ferret out the problem of adulterated olive oil in markets around the world. This is a rampant problem that degrades the quality of olive oil world wide, creates a competitive disadvantage for those olive oil producers who play by the rules, and steals money from the wallets of consumers who pay far higher prices than they should for adulterated olive oil. This issue hits home for NCL, given our experience fighting food fraud, and testing products such as adulterated lemon juice. We hope to work with Miller and government regulators in the US and elsewhere to help expose this problem. NCL is grateful to the organizers of this BIT First Annual Conference on Food and Nutrition for including a consumer voice in the program. I found the gathering unusually rewarding, made many new friends and contacts for NCL, and learned a great deal from the many academics and doctors from around the world who are engaged in such noble and important work.