Why DNA-Based Quality Assurance Matters for Botanical Ingredients

Botanicals are a source of nutrition that has supported good health among people in many different cultures for thousands of years. Founded on traditional knowledge, its science places incredible value on the source of the genuine botanicals.

Thus, when seeking authentic botanical ingredients, you will need assurance-founded verification of its proper identity and source.

Today, the majority of the world’s population still relies on botanicals as part of a healthy lifestyle. As a result, the botanical supply chain has increased in complexity in order to meet these global demands.

How to address such demands is the topic of my presentation at the 6th Annual Herbalife Nutrition Global Quality Summit, which this year’s theme is “The Metamorphosis of the Nutritional Industry – Embracing Transparency, Technology and Compliance.”

The Quality Assurance Challenge

One of the big challenges of quality assurance programs is to verify botanical species ingredients from producers and suppliers to finished products.

Quality assurance can be underpinned by DNA-based forensic biotechnology, in which we extract DNA from botanical ingredients and then conduct a molecular diagnostic test.

Species-specific DNA sequence motifs are third-party-validated in a rigorous scientific standard operating process that ensures an accurate and reliable test. The food industry currently uses this process as a routine tool for species identity testing to make sure ingredients do not contain foodborne pathogens.

The NHP Research Alliance is working to develop and validate DNA testing methods for botanicals, in collaboration with industry leaders such as Herbalife Nutrition that seek a gold standard in quality control. Once the DNA is sequenced it can be matched to a botanical reference material (RM) library – a comprehensive library for thousands of species from around the globe – in order to reveal the species identity of each ingredient.

The NHP Research Alliance, based at the University of Guelph, is an initiative that aims to develop new, mutually agreed upon standards for botanical species ingredient authentication. Herbalife Nutrition, who recently joined the Alliance, is engaging DNA-based tools to ensure their nutrition products consist of the exact species of plants and botanicals needed to support their health claims.

A Botanical Testing Example Using Formula 1

As a third-party university test lab, we recently provided a critical quality assessment of Herbalife Nutrition’s botanical supply chain. Our investigation included one of Herbalife Nutrition’s flagship products: Cookies and Cream Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix.

Finished product and all of the raw botanical ingredients used in this product were sent to our university lab, where we extracted DNA and were able to positively identify every ingredient that concluded them to be authentic.

The Formula 1 Shake product formula included multiple batch testing of finished product and raw botanicals, including:

The ingredients contained lots of good quality DNA for an unequivocal identity validation for every species.

The TRU-ID DNA testing method and certification standard was implemented as a gold standard for DNA testing of ingredients in this study.

Science-Backed Transparency

Herbalife Nutrition and the NHP Research Alliance at the University of Guelph are co-developing a pilot project for three Herbalife Nutrition products in an NHP Product Supply Chain Verification program.

To authenticate all ingredients, the verification process involves two steps, namely:

  1. Co-developing the raw ingredient supplier DNA and chemical standard botanical reference material (RM) libraries that are verified against the comprehensive botanical RM database housed at the University of Guelph.
  2. On-site testing standard operating protocols (SOP), including DNA primers, probes, sequences and chemical fingerprints (NMR models). This allows Herbalife Nutrition staff to engage in a rigorous, on-site DNA-based biotechnology for quality assurance identity verification.

It is very inspiring to see companies like Herbalife Nutrition making the investment in cutting edge biotechnology to ensure quality control in the supply chain of nutritional ingredients. This demonstrates industry leadership, transparency, and a commitment to high-quality brands that consumers can trust.

Steven Newmaster

Steven NewmasterDirector, Natural Health Products (NHP) Research Alliance

Dr. Newmaster has been a Botany & Genomics professor at the University of Guelph, Canada for more than 20 years. His research has resulted in the development of policy on biodiversity and international trade of botanicals, including product authentication certification within the food and natural product industry within Canada, USA, Europe, and Asia. He advises on the authentication of herbal products to regulators and is developing new QA/QC industry standards for testing natural ingredient authenticity.