Navigating the world of supplements for horses can sometimes seem like exploring uncharted territory. But you don’t have to be a seasoned world-traveler to understand animal health products and make informed decisions. Fortunately for horses, their owners, and veterinarians, there is an organization dedicated to protecting the integrity of the products we give to our equine friends: the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).

The NASC was founded in 2001 when animal supplements were nearly taken off store shelves by state regulators concerned that common ingredients like glucosamine and MSM were not approved to be in feed. The Council began working cooperatively with state and federal government officials to help create a fair, reasonable, responsible, and nationally consistent regulatory environment.

NASC Quality Seal

Companies displaying this seal have passed a comprehensive facilities audit that includes an evaluation of the following key areas:

  1. Quality Control Manual—emphasizing Good Manufacturing Practices or GMPs.
  2. Adverse Event Reporting/Complaint System—allowing FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) full access.
  3. Label Guidelines—including all advertising and literature for a product.
  4. Warning and Caution Statements—­recommended by the FDA/CVM and the NASC Scientific Advisory Committee for particular ingredients.

This organization opened up a channel for constructive dialogue with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA/CVM) as well as with the Association for American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). It developed label templates and advertising standards with FDA/CVM and AAFCO input to help consumers better understand these products’ role in maintaining and promoting their animals’ health. NASC members (who join to access the organization’s regulatory and research resources and gain quality assurance for consumers) must abide by these templates and standards or be subject to fines and even expulsion from the organization. The NASC and an independent auditing firm also extensively review members’ marketing and product literature to ensure no misleading claims are being made.

The NASC Adverse Event Reporting System stores complete information on all member products and ingredients, allowing for rapid analysis during an animal supplement recall and making it possible to trace affected products or ingredients to individual companies or even a specific product stock keeping unit (SKU).

Shortly after being founded, the NASC initiated the Quality Seal Program (see sidebar) as part of its ongoing effort to improve and standardize the animal health supplement industry. Buying animal supplements bearing the NASC Quality Seal is the best way to ensure they are coming from a trustworthy source.

There weren’t always such stringent processes in place to assure the quality of animal health supplements and provide clear labeling guidelines. In 1994 Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA), creating an official regulatory “home” for human supplements. However, in 1996 the FDA/CVM stated that DSHEA does not apply to animal supplements. This means products similar to human dietary supplements but marketed for animals have only two possible legal categories under U.S. law: 1) animal feed or 2) animal drugs.

Basically, if a supplement is intended to provide nutrition, such as a multivitamin, it is a feed supplement and should be labeled and marketed as such. If the supplement is intended to support the structure and function of the body other than by food, such as a joint supplement, then it is an animal health supplement and should be labeled and marketed as such. The NASC has helped shape these rules and helped its member companies comply with these guidelines.

At times the entire equine supplement industry is made to seem as if it’s “flying ­under the radar.” In fact, thanks to the NASC, the industry has open and productive dialogue with state and federal government agencies who provide input on supplement manufacturing practices, adverse event reporting, and product labels. Without the NASC’s efforts to bring clarity and consistency to this industry, horse owners and veterinarians would not have access to the wide variety of supplements that are available.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA, is the staff veterinarian for SmartPak Equine, in Plymouth, Mass., where she is involved in supplement research and development as well as horse health and nutrition owner education.

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.