Let’s Start a Revolution

Updated: August 8, 2013


By Nick Barringer MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS (EIEIO)

Everything can be changed…everything… the problem is not the “how” but rather the “why.” If you believe the “why” is big enough, you will figure out the “how.” Many industry experts will say this issue cannot be changed. I think it can if—and only if—consumers start making some noise. I also think the “why” is pretty big, but I will let you decide for yourself.

OK so who takes dietary supplements? Statistics say that over half of you reading this do, and that number is growing. How many know where their supplement is made? What does it say? Most likely somewhere in the Midwest, but if not most importantly somewhere in the good old US—yea ‘Merica!

But wait, does it say “manufactured for”? Because that means the marketing company that sells it is located at that address but not the plant they contracted to make it. Don’t get too alarmed though as most supplement companies actually do this as it cuts down on overhead. So remain calm because this plant that your supplement is made at is probably still located in the US.

Now we get to the million—no, scratch that—billion dollar question…where do the raw ingredients come from??? Not in the US, not in Canada, not in Mexico, but the People’s Republic of China.

If you recall back in 2007-2008 there was a scandal involving tainted pet food in North America and infant formula in China. The contaminant, melamine, caused renal failure and death in animals and caused a reported 300,000 cases of infant illness, 50,000 infants to be hospitalized, and most tragically 6 infant deaths.

Now what was melamine, a product used to make things like laminate flooring and dry erase boards, doing in food?

The simple answer is greed: melamine caused a false positive for nitrogen levels, which is the test used to check the protein content of milk. The farmers watered down the milk and spiked it with melamine so the people buying it would not know the difference. This practice was also being used in plant protein mixes as well and that is how the pet food became contaminated. The people selling the raw ingredients knew the tests being utilized and war-gamed the system to increase their profits.

But that was 2008; surely 5 years later that problem has been fixed, right?

In an article from March of this year the National University of Singapore Business School wrote a piece covering the melamine scandal and found little has changed in the industry with the final quote used being the most telling:

“It comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis—the cost of violating food safety regulations remains low compared to potential profits.”

Sadly the unscrupulous business practice doesn’t stop at milk. Bilberry is a berry revered for its salubrious properties. The test used to grade bilberries is UV spectrophotometry; basically an ultra violet light is used to identify the level of anthocyanins in the berry; which are the healthy flavonoids in the berry that also gives it color. Just last week consumer labs released a warning about fake bilberry supplements with China being implicated as the main source.

The raw ingredient suppliers learned that by spiking batches with azo dyes they could get higher readings of anthocyanins with less actual berries. One of the dyes used, Sudan I, is considered both genotoxic and carcinogenic by the European Union.

Some of you might be thinking “Where is the FDA?” The simple answer is: stretched thin. The FDA has a difficult enough time inspecting facilities in the US; let alone international. The FDA is only able to inspect less than 1% of the regulated products entering the country.

The FDA does have an office in China but inspectors have to notify their Chinese counterparts first, who then set up an appointment with the facilities owners for the inspection to take place. Yup, the owners are basically getting a Warning Order that the FDA is coming days before the inspections takes place; I will let that sink in…

Now to the supplement companies purchasing the raw ingredients: I recently had a conversation over lunch with the director of research and development of a supplement company. He stated his company tested all their raw ingredients coming through the door to not only ensure they were indeed what the label said but that they were also free of things like heavy metals.

I asked him if he could make a product without ingredients from China and he said he was not sure and even if so the cost would be at least 10 times greater; too expensive for most companies. And although they test for known contaminants because melamine was not a known contaminant it was never tested for. Essentially, although there are some companies testing raw ingredients they receive they are not going to catch an intentional contaminant. So it will most likely be the consumer’s adverse reaction that will catch the next contaminant not currently screened for…

Which brings me to you, the reader. Either you are a consumer of supplements or you know someone who does. Every day you or this person casts a vote with your dollars. Up until this point homeostasis in the industry has been maintained because no one has rocked the boat. The sheep have continued to follow along with the flock because few have questioned “Where does this come from?”

But the RU community is comprised not of sheep and casual passengers but of boat-rockers and sheep dogs. So here is your challenge: you and/or your supplement taking friend grab the bottle of vitamins, protein powder, amino acids, etc. you are taking and find the company listed on the bottle. Call or e-mail the company and simply ask “where do you get your raw ingredients from?” Whatever answer they give you post it below this article. Group participation is HIGHLY encouraged so invite friends and family to join in.

The end game is if enough people start asking questions and letting the companies know that there is a demand for American raw ingredients in the supplement industry the companies will have no choice but figure out a way to supply it. But it will take a revolution to get there—so let’s start it!





  1. Greg M.

    August 8, 2013 at 10:11 am

    CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! Already called Cellucor….. The rep didn’t know where they were from but he knew they were combined and formulated here.

    I also stated I was hoping they came from America.

    Fun Fact 30% discount for military members! They have a Code at checkout. guess what it is? MILITARY

  2. Jimi Threet

    August 8, 2013 at 11:11 am

    FYI the picture shown is the way it actually happened. Troo story

  3. Sean

    August 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Just submitted the following to both BSN and Muscle Pharm: “Where are your products mixed? Where are your raw ingredients sourced from? If the answer is outside of the US for either question, what are your procedures for inspecting the ingredients/final product for quality and consistency?”

  4. Emma

    August 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    I snooped around on BSN’s website and they make it look like they take all the precautions they can to make sure their product is high quality and safe. I’m at work so I didn’t make a call. I’ll be interested to hear what Sean finds out. Also, they give a 45% discount plus free shipping to military folks.

  5. RCK

    August 8, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Interesting game. More than half of all FDA recalls are for dietary supplements (Google the Forbes article: “Massive Drug Recalls are a Wake-Up Call for Vitamin and Supplement Industry”).

    The FDA can’t test all food products before they go to market, so there’s a long wait list period where dietary supplements (including all vitamins) can be sold without testing. The first check is just to ensure the product is safe for consumption. The FDA never tests for efficacy, so Beefcake2000 can claim whatever they want about making you ripped.

    When the FDA gets around to testing products many supplements fail because they either don’t contain what they say they do (cheap knockoffs), or contain stuff they’re not supposed to (usually the ambitious ones with more marketing presence in the fitness world). Stick to older, more recognized brands because at least they’ve passed the ingredients test. As for whether or not most supplements do what they claim and are worth the money – that’s a separate question altogether. Customers may not like the answer in most cases. It may be a Billion Dollar Industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth that much.

    Also, I think Power Balance Bracelets should be exempt from this exercise since they have to contain “Qi” – which means the HAVE to be made in China. Duh, everyone knows that.

  6. Jordan

    August 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    My original message followed by Cellucor’s reply:
    I was wondering if you could tell me where you source your ingredients from for C4 and Super HD. Are they actually from America, or are they imported and then combined domestically? Thank you very much for your time.
    Thanks for the email with questions regarding our product. The Super HD product, hands-down, is going to be our most effective weight loss product. It is geared to help with all day energy, metabolism boosting, and appetite suppression. It will help burn more calories throughout the day, and it has additional ingredients like huperzine and dandelion root. These ingredients are a great source of mental energy, and also help the body shed excess water weight with the mild diuretic. Also, in comparison to many other weight loss products, it’s priced very well.

    C4 Extreme is our most popular pre workout designed to give you energy and focus to push you through your workout that also has an amazing taste. It utilizes beta alanine which is great for muscular endurance by helping prevent the buildup of lactic acid. C4 also has arginine akg which will work as a vasodilator giving you a great pump along with the creatine nitrate.

    Also, if you go to http://www.celluco.com you can get label lists on product. Let me know if you have ant needs that go beyond this infromation.

    In short they avoided the question entirely.

    • Nick Barringer

      August 9, 2013 at 6:46 pm

      Nice job Jordan. I think by avoiding the question they answered it.

  7. Jazz Jackrabbit

    August 8, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    One of the only companies that claim to manufacture in the US that I can find is AJINOMOTO amino acids and NutraBio. I’m not quite sold on NutraBio though, they claim they adhere to cGMP practices and manufacture in the US, but I think maybe they assemble the ingredients in the US and order from elsewhere.

  8. Mark Norman

    August 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    I use At Large Nutrition for my protein powder. I emailed them today and they claimed their raw materials were from the US

  9. B.H. Bob

    August 9, 2013 at 3:07 am

    We have had a huge spike of positive UA’s because of supplements. People need to research what is going in their body. These guys think they’re helping themselves but are actually fast tracking the end of their careers.

  10. Mike B

    August 9, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I emailed Optimum Nutrition about where they get their raw materials sourced from and where they mix them. Im waiting for a reply, but in the mean time I copied something they have that touches on this from their web site. In mentions quality control but not where they source from.

    Our commitment to quality is evident throughout the entire product development process. Before a single machine is turned on we carefully select vendors who supply premium raw materials. All vendors must provide a Certificate of Analysis for each raw material as a continued measure of quality.These certificates are then verified through random in-house and independent laboratory testing. Highly sophisticated equipment confirms the purity and potency of every ingredient on our labels. To further diminish any chance of physical, chemical, and microbiological contaminants, we have established and implemented our own Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program. Quality assurance professionals make routine checks on all storage, blending, and production areas and conduct final inspections daily. Together, these procedures allow Optimum Nutrition to constantly deliver first-rate sports nutrition supplements under the strictest quality control standards known as current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs).

  11. Mike Mason

    August 9, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Here’s the reply from Controlled Labs:

    “Thanks for the email. All of our products are manufactured in a domestic (USA) based NSF certified GMP facility. Raw materials are sourced from all over the world including domestically. All incoming raw materials are quarantined until both micro and identity testing is performed.”

    All the over the world probably means like 95% China…

    • Nick Barringer

      August 9, 2013 at 7:12 pm


      Nice. Yes, the answer lies in the companies not directly answering or avoiding the question.

  12. Mike B

    August 9, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Just heard back from Optimum Nutrition:

    Hi Michael,

    “Thank you for choosing Optimum Nutrition. All of our powdered products are made in our Aurora, Illinois location while all our caps/tabs are made down in Sunrise, Florida. The dairy based ingredients that Optimum Nutrition uses to manufacture its protein products are sourced domestically and internationally, including Australia, New Zealand, and countries within the European Union. We do not currently source or purchase any dairy proteins from China. The other ingredients, we source from domestic and international origin. “

    • Nick Barringer

      August 9, 2013 at 7:08 pm

      Mike B,

      Well done. Good to know concerning the dairy. I am curious concerning the other ingredients since they do not mention in specific countries like they had previously with the dairy. But I’m sure these questions are invoking some thought at the supplement companies concerning raw ingredient sourcing.

  13. John T. R

    August 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    You just pissed in my cereal. You know I live on supplements, now I’m gonna have to cut most of them out cause I hate paying China. Great article though, thanks for informing us. We gotta talk some time, I’d like to hear how your doing. If Travis has your info I’ll get it through him.

    • Nick Barringer

      August 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm


      Sorry about your cereal but glad I could enlighten. Great to hear from you. Yes, Travis has my contact info. Look forward to chatting soon.

  14. JoeC

    August 12, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I contacted Pure Protein last week and haven’t heard back from them yet. That probably means I won’t like the answer they give me. I guess I’ll be looking for a new protein supplier. Oh well. I’m not attached and it’s the only supplement I take. Shouldn’t be hard to replace.

  15. GingerC

    August 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    I contacted VitaCost about the multivitamin I’ve been taking for the past few years. Unfortunately their reply confirmed my suspicion that the price was too good to be domestically sourced. Their reply:

    After reviewing our system about the item Vitacost Synergy Once Daily® Multi-Vitamin — 60 Capsules we have been advised that the majority of the ingredients are from China, and then we manufacture it in our facility in Lexington, North Carolina.

  16. GoatBoy

    August 30, 2013 at 8:40 am

    I received the following response from NEXT, the manufacturers of Designer Whey proteins:

    “Hi Christopher,

    Thank you for contacting us regarding Designer Whey’s ingredients. In regards to your inquiry, all of our whey protein is sourced from the United States and our products are manufactured and packaged here as well. However, we do on occasion use Chinese sourced ingredients and depending on which flavor, the usage level can range from 3-7% of the total formula. We understand the concern over China sourced ingredients and because it is a sensitive issue we have implemented numerous safeguards and requirements before we even qualify a supplier. Our suppliers are required to audit their Chinese plants semi-annually and they must prove and verify safety and potency of the ingredient by historical data going back at least 18 months. When approved and finally shipped, we then have it tested at the dock and then again as a finished product. We hope this eases any concerns about China sourced ingredients and the safety of Designer Whey products.”

    It appears that maybe the Revolution is having an effect…

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