The issue revolves around a somewhat fuzzy FDA food labeling regulation that specifies the amount of protein in foods and supplements is to be calculated as a factor of nitrogen content, but does not define the sources of nitrogen that should be included in such calculations. Protein is the primary source of nitrogen in foods and supplements, but there can be others, such as taurine, which has functional properties of its own but in the cynical view can be included in a formula solely the purpose of boosting the protein numbers.
The new AHPA standard, called Guidance on Labeling of Protein in Food and Dietary Supplements, creates a standard by establishing that protein is calculated to include only proteins that are chains of amino acids connected by peptide bonds and to exclude any non-protein nitrogen-containing substances from such calculations. AHPA said it hopes the new guidance will become a standard for industry, and many companies already use this method.
Disagreement among membership
But not all, and there has been the rub. Some companies, that felt economically disadvantaged by competitors who were reporting higher protein content via what they saw as a fraudulent method, pushed the organization to take action. Michael McGuffin, AHPA’s executive director, sees this episode as a successful example of member companies working together to solve a problem and avoid a public row.
“When this issue was brought to AHPA’s attention by several member companies, a goal was promptly established to clarify industry practice in the light of a regulation that appears to allow options on how to quantify protein. None of our members disputed that goal. Over time it became clear that the most effective approach to reach this goal would be to establish a voluntary policy to standardize how protein is calculated in food and supplement products,” McGuffin told NutraIngredients-USA.
"This guidance highlights the industry's ability to identify an issue and collaborate to develop an effective solution,” McGuffin said. "Members of AHPA's Sports Nutrition Committee have committed to adopting this guidance to help ensure food and supplement labels provide consumers with comparable information needed to make informed purchasing decisions."
The issue has been percolating under the surface for a number of years, said Anthony Almada, a consultant and principal in the sports nutrition firm GENr8.
“It’s what I like to call a ‘safe’ melamine scandal,” Almada said. Almada was making an analogy to the dangerous and now discontinued practice of adding melamine to products to produce a fraudulent protein value, but was not alleging that the companies in the current situation were doing anything to harm public health.
“If you could raise the amount of protein in your product, you could command a higher price. They were adding more concentrated sources of nitrogen, which in this case were things like creatine, glycine and taurine. They are dirt cheap,” Almada said.
“Applause for AHPA for taking this step is very much due, but I would say it is long overdue. I would say that the economic impact of this as been as much as $50 million to $100 million over the years,” he said.