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Scientific and Equine Consultant

Will the Equine Supplement Industry ever be Properly Controlled or Regulated?

First of all, in case you don’t know I do actually work in the equine supplement industry. Yes, I make my living partly from this industry. Yes, I need to sell supplements to generate income. However, I spent 25 years in research, a large part of it involved with equine nutrition and 12 years learning the skills necessary to formulate, develop, manufacture and trial equine supplements.

Not a day goes by now where I don’t see adverts or websites or social media posts which blatantly flaunt UK and EU law and which should be acted upon by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the Advertising Standards Agency or Trading Standards. In many cases this is simply a case of claims which are not-permitted (e.g. medicinal or functional claims such “prevents laminitis”, “boosts immunity”, “improves recovery”,…..). Other supplements use ingredients which are not permitted to be used under EU regulations (e.g. chromium, glutamine, etc) because they are prohibited or are not included in EU Register of Feed Additives . Many companies labels do not provide the information required under EU regulations. Many companies also imply that they are part of schemes such as BETA NOPS which reduces the risk of positive tests for COMMONLY occurring (note not ALL) prohibited substances; essential for horses competing affiliated/FEI. Finally, I see many marketing claims that are not supported by any data when the format of the claim requires them to provide a reference to supporting data. And I won’t even start on inclusion of ingredients known to be potentially harmful (e.g. high level iron supplements) or ineffective (e.g. creatine, L-ascorbic acid). Finally, whilst there is no evidence that supplements on sale in the UK don’t meet the specifications for ingredients on their labels, an independent survey of equine joint supplements in the USA showed that many had lower amounts of active ingredients such as glucosamine in them than was claimed on the label. In a few cases, the supplements contained NO active ingredients at all.

Horse owners are not all scientists. I can spot poor products and misleading adverts easily. However, if I am buying a coffee maker then I would probably have no clue who makes the best ones unless I find someone who works in the industry or a good independent review (e.g. WHICH). So I don’t blame the consumer who buys supplements for their horse. It’s a highly technical field and there is no reliable independent body that will review what’s on offer – maybe WHICH would like to take it on. I would love to see their findings if they did.

It’s perhaps of even more concern that a range such as TEN failed to survive in this marketplace. TEN should have had everything going for it. A good scientific and nutritional team, excellent marketing support, probably a large budget. Perhaps the online only model was wrong but it’s still a shock to see that an ethical company with good products couldn’t make it in the supplement area.

The equine supplement market in the UK is SATURATED. That doesn’t stop new companies springing up thinking that there is an easy and quick buck to be made. Unfortunately, anyone can set up a company to sell supplements. Just get a name, some designs, a website and buy some cheap ingredients in bulk from China and mix them up in your garage. Did I mention there is no need to prove you know what you are doing or have any knowledge of equine nutrition or physiology? And don’t worry, there is no obligation to demonstrate that the products you are selling are either efficacious or safe. And do make sure you are a limited company in case anyone’s horse has a bad reaction and dies or has to be put down and then you won’t have any liability. Make outrageous and illegal claims and wait until the ASA, VMD or Trading Standards catches up with you and then just “say sorry”.

Are we perfect? No. in order to compete in the marketplace we have to try and market as competitively as the law allows. Sometimes we may sail the wrong side of the line but that is rare. Do I expect everyone to buy Science Supplements products? Of course not, but I hope that we will appeal to a sector of the market that appreciates the knowledge, time and care we put into developing, researching, trialing and marketing our products to ensure they are safe and effective.

The problem is that as the market is saturated, there are so many small companies and new companies, many of which don’t last more than a few years, and the resources of the VMD, ASA and Trading Standards are already stretched. But these are the only organisations that are currently in a position to moderate the industry as the industry has shown no interest in self-regulation. Therefore, unfortunately, I don’t see the equine feed supplement industry improving its behaviour in the near future. The result of this in the best case is that owners are spending money on supplements that have low levels of benign ingredients which offer no benefit.