European GMP standard targets doping specter in sports nutrition, sector divided over benefits
02 Mar 2021 --- The first-ever pan-European good manufacturing practice (GMP) for sports nutrition is the topic of hot debate as industry weighs up whether it will help enforce quality and weed out bad actors lacing products with doping analogs like steroids and stimulants.
Specialized Nutrition Europe (SNE) and The European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM) argue the voluntary GMP will build confidence in the sector among elite and other athletes.
However, the European Specialized Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), Europe’s largest sports nutrition-focused industry body, says the standard is ill-defined and will sow confusion.
Stemming from “polarizing debate”
Market surveys have found about 10-20 percent of European sports supplements are inadvertently or intentionally contaminated with illegal doping compounds.
The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) standard outlines GMP including various traceability and transparency supply chain protocols.
It also highlights how plant extracts may contain World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-prohibited substances and defines consumer-facing communications.
The GMP standard is the first to reach across Europe in sports nutrition. It lands after years of negotiations among CEN’s core membership of standards organizations in 34 countries – plus other relevant parties.
Aurelie Perrichet, the executive director of SNE, tells NutritionInsight while the standard was born out of often “polarizing debate,” it nonetheless delivered a “powerful new pan-European tool” to raise sports nutrition product quality.
Perrichet said this was especially so for smaller players that may not be able to afford third-party certification services. “For those not using any scheme, it gives them a toolbox to put in place higher standards.”
The voluntary standard can be downloaded for a fee of about €100 (US$120).
EHPM’s director general, Livia Menichetti, says the GMP would “provide better information to consumers in the framework of voluntary and self-control principles.”
ESSNA: Insufficient guarantees to athletes and businesses
ESSNA questioned whether the standard would offer meaningful safeguards against contamination with banned substances.
ESSNA, which took part in the CEN negotiations along with SNE, EHPM members and national anti-doping organizations like UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), says the final standard failed to capture the full spectrum of potentially adulterated foods and drinks actually used by athletes.
Athletes may also be confounded by what the standard’s GMP protocols actually mean.
ESSNA states the standard “does not provide sufficient guarantees to adequately protect consumers, athletes and businesses.”
It could also “be perceived by athletes and sportspeople alike as providing reassurance that products that abide by the standard are doping-free.”
The group says a more rigorous standard would have advocated “batch-to-batch testing” of the kind offered by one of its members, LGC-owned Informed-Sport.
Informed-Sport’s third-party certification service is employed by hundreds of sports nutrition brands. It has never been implicated in any doping infringement since its inception in 2008.
Informed-Sport EMEA and Asia business development manager, Terence O’Rorke, says the service offers “a tiered pricing structure that makes our programs affordable to manufacturers and brands of all sizes, as shown by the wide variety of companies that are certified.”
Disclaimers and doping-free endorsements
The CEN standard does not authorize any on-product, anti-doping logo. It also demands participants include a disclaimer stating it doesn’t “constitute any form of approval for use by those subject to ‘doping control.’”
It spells out that product website and marketing materials must clearly state it is a “manufacturing standard and not a product endorsement process.”
“Complete transparency to end users is required specifically in respect of anti-doping and strict liability obligations of athletes,” it adds.
But ESSNA says it didn’t go far enough in “specifying that the standard does not lead to any form of product endorsement.”
These concerns are believed to have driven dissention to the standard’s implementation by UKAD and CEN’s UK member, the British Standards Institute.
Is sports nutrition too narrow a definition?
Another bone of contention was the standard’s focus on “foods intended for sports people and food supplements” – a definition that for instance includes sports drinks but not energy drinks.
ESSNA calls this kind of demarcation “inappropriate and impractical” and says a better standard would include all food products “in light of the growing number of mainstream products targeting the physically active”.
ESSNA spokesperson Aristeidis Myriskos tells NutritionInsight: “We understand the rationale for making it specific, but we feel a broader scope would have better reflected the reality of athletes’ diets.”
“While acknowledging the important difference between energy drinks and sports drinks, we believe energy drinks should be covered by the proposal,” he continues.
What does the standard (EN 17444) actually say?
The standard cites a popular European definition of sports foods/supplements as those “designed to optimize gains from training, enhance recovery within and between workouts and events, achieve and maintain an ideal body weight and composition.”
Products that meet the standard can state on-label that they have been “developed and manufactured in accordance with the requirements of EN 17444 at the batch production date”.
But the fact it then only calls for companies to add “year of the batch release” has drawn criticism for being too broad.
The standard does however specify that manufacturers retain a sample from every batch for its expected shelf life plus 12 months, in case testing may be required at some later point.
GMPs referenced in the standard include:
- Selection of ingredients and suppliers.
- Competence of personnel.
- Premises and production tools.
- Composition and formulation of products.
- Document control.
- Management of non-conformities and recalls.
Although the WADA code stipulates that athletes are responsible for all nutritional inputs, a large percentage continue to blame adulterated supplements for failed doping tests.
By Shane Starling
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