Visiting Tea Farms in China: Why Quality Starts at the Source

Man In Chinese Tea Field

In order to make strides in botanical innovation, we must gather what we can from both modern science and traditional knowledge. I went to the heart of rural China where people have used plants for nutrition for thousands of years. Having dedicated my professional life to botanicals, I felt humbled.             

Why We Collect Specimen from the Source

My good friend and colleague Dr. Yanjun, a senior scientist at Herbalife Nutrition, accompanied me to collect botanical specimens – precious collections to be revisited later in a molecular DNA lab. To ensure customers get authentic ingredients that support good health, the industry needs to adopt a more comprehensive authentication process that starts from the source. Gathering botanicals at the front of the supply chain will lead to better quality assurance of natural products such as tea. Voucher collections are botanical specimens that are retained as a reference. These allow scientists to expand our botanical archive, which serves as a reference for building DNA and chemical libraries. This process aids us in researching the health benefits of plant products, which in turn, benefits the consumer by providing them with verified data they can use to make better-informed decisions.

A responsible company plays an important role in building a voucher collection at the source, and in our case, we were visiting tea farms that supply Herbalife Nutrition’s tea.

Importance of Working with Genuine Ingredients

“Stop the truck!” I said to the driver as we passed by clumps of wild tea bushes. The site, dotted with silky white-petaled flowers, was pure, simple, yet beautiful and profound. We bolted from the truck and expertly started clipping and filling our plant presses. For botanists, it is very exciting when we spot a unique pattern of genetic variations in a plant, because it is critical to assembling comprehensive genomic and metabolomic libraries. This data is then matched against the end product – dried leaves, powders, and extracts. Through DNA identity testing, we can validate if the correct plant species were in fact used, leaving no room for assumptions of the tea’s authenticity and origins. The whole process requires a lot of work, but we do this to fulfil our shared goal of creating a transparent supply chain with comprehensive quality assurance principles. Ultimately, we want consumers to rest assured, knowing that the natural products they consume are in fact made from genuine, verified ingredients.

Why Authentication Matters to Consumers

Adulteration – or the action of adding substitute ingredients – is a reality in the natural products industry. This is in part due to the lack of vouchered collections, comprehensive libraries, and third-party validations to ensure ingredient identity. The industry has an obligation to provide authentic ingredients to the customer. If a product is adulterated, then you may not get the nutritional benefits you thought you were paying for. It fills me with hope when industry leaders such as Herbalife Nutrition and other reputable companies step up to collectively raise the industry standards to achieve excellence. Through comprehensive voucher and DNA-chemical barcode libraries, we will be able to perform forensic testing to drastically reduce food fraud and contamination. Our vision is to build collections from farms and the finished products from all over the globe. With this data, we will be able to develop scientifically valid tests for a truly transparent supply chain of genuine botanical ingredients.