Five Years And Rapidly Moving The Needle Forward

Karen Howard, executive director of Organic & Natural Health Association opens up the 5th annual conference at South Seas Island Resort in Captiva Island, Florida. The conference theme was “The Constant of Change.”

Organic & Natural Health Association exists to redefine the relationship between corporation and consumer, for the purpose of creating a healthy planet for healthy people. We are unique in that our primary interest is not to represent the financial interests of our members, who include retailers and consumer organizations in addition to representatives of the dietary supplement supply chain. Our members understand that by representing the interests of the end user, they will benefit in all ways, including financially. This orientation shows up in all of our work, including our 5th annual conference just held at the South Seas Island Resort in Captiva Island, Florida.  

This year’s theme was “The Constant of Change,” begging the question of what is changing and how will we address the changes in ways that serve our mission. We always start with walking our talk. Serving healthy food, enjoying the gifts of nature, and listening to some of the nation’s greatest messengers of living a full and healthy life. This year was no different as we opened with Meridan Zerner, of the Cooper Clinic, who spoke to the needs for leaders to live a truly healthy lifestyle.  

Organic & Natural Health Association board and members gather for opening dinner at South Seas Island Resort in Captiva Island, Florida.

From there we move quickly into supply chain issues, starting with politics. We of course include the issue of CBD legality, and add to that the need for collaborative dialogue around a wide array of issues that includes, but is not limited to, DSHEA. After all, it is the hemp industry that is leading the drive for CBD legislation in Congress. We discussed CBD as part of the larger issues we must address, including climate change, regenerative agriculture and the Organic Consumer Association’s successful initiative to work with like-minded interests to gain recognition of these issues in many the Democratic presidential candidate platforms.  

Catching up at opening dinner at South Seas Island Resort in Captiva Island, Florida. From left to right:
Debra Short, executive director SENPA; Karen Howard, executive director of Organic & Natural Health

Our toolbox of stakeholders is small at the moment, and yet its power is rooted in deep expertise. We heard from Fran Towey, of Natural Partners Fullscript, on how they are tapping into the practitioner and patient relationship, creating a data platform that serves both through its education on the power of supplementation. Of course, we were afforded the perspective of the retail world, with Alan Lewis of Natural Grocers, and Organic & Natural Board Member, serving as our guide to the myriad of certifications we have come to rely on. Lester Burks, president of SENPA and CEO of Life Line Foods, reminded us that education is always done at the independent stores, a resource far too important to overlook as we continue our love affair with online shopping.  

And then there is data. We love data. You could hear a pin drop as Dr. James DiNicolantonia, cardiovascular research scientist and doctor, shared the many ways we have denigrated the food supply of nutrients over the past few decades, evidence our naysayers are misguided in their belief you can eat your way to a nutrient dense and healthy diet without supplementation. He was followed by Rodney Dietert, professor emeritus of Cornell University, who tied it all together by connecting the dots between the connectivity of our microbiome, on Earth and above it, to human health.  

We are indeed an industry at a crossroads, facing challenges that warrant our immediate and full attention. Ben Dobson, of Stone House Farm, offered a breath of hope in his sharing of the agricultural practices his farm has transitioned to. We focused on the extraordinary evolution of Biologically Engineered (BE) ingredients, with Neptune’s Melody Harwood educating us on the current rules and rush to market of BE CBD. Kim Richman, of the Richman Law Group, enlightened us on how to push the supply chain to be transparent using the legal process and pursuing things like class action suits.  

Networking at Organic & Natural Health’s “Party in Paradise” From left to right: Heather Wainer, publisher WholeFoods Magazine; Andrew Halpner, VP, Science and Technical Services, Atrium Innovations; Ken Seguine, Head of AlgaTech USA

These conversations affect the continual quality improvement efforts of our members, and inform our Board’s work. Four years ago, we launched a glyphosate testing program. We are transitioning that program to one for a full spectrum of pesticides. Our Membership Agreement, signed annually by members who supply raw ingredients, contract manufacturers and brands, is being revised. We’ll be reviewing the new array of certifications on the marketplace to see which best serve consumers. And, we are knee deep in education efforts relating to biological engineering. As always, we are driven to make sure consumers get what they want, and we know that includes transparency. If the natural products industry won’t demand transparency and ensure the integrity of the supply chain for consumers, who will?  

You can always trust in Organic & Natural Health to push the envelope, whether its ensuring access to the entire hemp plant and its amazing properties, demanding testing for bioengineered ingredients, or going up against Amazon, the largest gas station purveyor of dietary supplements. We are educating ourselves, and in turn, our consumer audience. Join us on Facebook and Twitter to see what we are up too. Our power is in numbers and truth.  

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Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association
Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association is a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and healthcare organizations to develop innovative healthcare policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, healthcare technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration. Prior to Organic & Natural Health, Howard served as executive director for both the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Schools. During her nearly 10-year tenure at AANP, she built a sustainable infrastructure, significantly improved financial performance, established a strong federal presence and supported multiple state association advocacy efforts for licensure. Also during this time, the naturopathic medicine profession established itself as a key component of comprehensive healthcare for the future. www.organicandnatural.org

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