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clean label

Puori Meets Jackie Bowen, Co-Founder of the Clean Label Project®

In a world full of questionable supplements, Puori holds itself to the highest of standards. We use only the freshest of ingredients, as responsibly and sustainably sourced as possible. When we first learned we were being included in a large-scale study of protein powders, conducted by the Clean Label Project, we were thrilled. Sure enough, our PW1 Vanilla Pure Whey Protein ranked in the #1 spot. We were so intrigued by the study in its entirety that we needed to know more. This eventually led us to co-founder Jackie Bowen.

The Clean Label Project (CLP) is a third-party, nonprofit organization that focuses on health and transparency in consumer product labelling. They use extensive data and science to dig deep into America's best-selling products and determine just how accurate the labels are. They test every product in an accredited analytical chemistry laboratory, looking for 130 different environmental and industrial contaminants and toxins that are harmful to the human body.

The CLP's philosophies and goals aligned with Puori's so perfectly that we caught up with co-founder Jackie Bowen to learn more about her and her mission.

A Q&A With Jackie Bowen, of the Clean Label Project

Puori: Tell us a bit about your background for entering the CLP — education, professional experience, passion for clean labelling, etc.

Jackie Bowen: I grew up in the midwestern United States to a modest upbringing. Growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan, my love for nature was fostered at an early age. At the age of 15, I became a vegetarian, and 25 years later, I’ve still never looked back.

It was this commitment to the environment that led me to pursue my undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology from Michigan State University. After finishing my undergraduate degree, 9/11 happened and it was difficult for recent graduates to get a job. I took a position at a hagwon (English institute) in Seoul, South Korea, teaching conversational English for a year for the adventure and to weather the job market storm.

When my contract was up, I returned home to Michigan. I then took a position in the chemistry lab at NSF International, a World Health Organization partnering centre for food safety and water quality. I was at NSF for 15 years. Here, I  worked in a variety of technical and leadership capacities, including standards development, food safety, label claims substantiation around certified organic, Non-GMO Project, gluten-free, and others. During this time, I also completed my two master’s degrees in Public Health and Quality Engineering.

What brought me to CLP is the fact that I have professionally served as a catalyst for the increase in consumer product label claims and certification logos. However, at the same time that you see this proliferation of "markers of quality" on product packaging, you see an increase in consumer, media, and academic interest and concern of pollution from mining, fracking, and industrial agriculture and the resulting industrial and environmental contaminants in our food and consumer product supply chain.

Yet, so much of the food safety regulatory focus and framework in the US is based on short-term adverse health effects from E.coli, salmonella, and listeria. What about long-term adverse health effects associated with chronic exposure to heavy metals, pesticide residues, and plasticizers in our food supply with known links to cancer and infertility?

My mission and CLP’s mission is to change the definition of food and consumer product safety with a long-term view of environmental and public health.

jackie bowen and friend

P: What impact do you hope the CLP will have in the future?

JB: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, roughly 3,000 people die of foodborne diseases. However, this year, about 10% of women (6.1 million) in the US ages 15-44 will have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. This year, an estimated 1.8 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the US. 610,000 will die from this disease.

You don’t see the formation of cancer cells that can come from heavy metal and pesticide exposure. You don’t see the formation of infertility that can come from endocrine disruptors in plasticizers. Each and every time a consumer thinks of safety in a different way or a brand thinks of ingredient sourcing in a different way, CLP has done its job. With the help and trust of consumers and progressive forward-leaning brands, I hope CLP and its partners continue to encourage manufacturers, retailers, and regulators to think differently when it comes to food and consumer product safety.

P: Why is transparency important to the consumers (or why should it be)?

JB: It’s a fun time to be a consumer! From social media to the internet, information and data are at your fingertips. This accessibility fosters knowledge, education, obligation and most importantly, competition among brands. Consumers gravitate to brands that they know and trust. It’s about building relationships, and that comes through honesty and transparency. Transparency shows that a brand has nothing to hide. More so, it shows that a brand has products that it's proud of.

P: What are some of the major issues within the dietary supplements category?

JB: Dietary supplements are not food, but they are also not a pharmaceutical. While dietary supplements are regulated, several years ago, there was a series of industry exposes that called into question the efficacy, purity, potency, and confidence in the dietary supplement industry. The industry has rallied behind increased regulatory enforcement. According to the Center for Responsible Nutrition, in 2018, three-quarters of Americans took dietary supplements. The steady increase in use observed over recent years speaks to society’s shift toward a more holistic, personalized approach to healthcare.

However, just today, I read an article by Time Magazine highlighting a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. It indicated that supplements promising flashy results like weight loss, muscle building and energy are sending kids and young adults to the hospital. The study highlighted that an analysis of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) records revealed that, from January 2004 to April 2015, about 1,000 people ages 25 and younger had a health issue linked to dietary supplements.

Further, the authors indicate that this is likely just the "tip of the iceberg," as many of the issues with dietary supplements go unreported.

At the end of the day, all consumers want the same thing from their supplements: safety and efficacy. This comes through trust, and trust can be built through transparency.

P: What are some of the major issues within the protein powders category?

JB: Clean Label Project did a study in 2018 about the true contents of America’s best-selling protein powders. Many great products delivered on their marketing promises of wellness and cleanliness. However, we observed rampant contamination with heavy metals (with known links to cancer in laboratory animals) and plasticizers like BPA/BPS (with known links to endocrine disruption).

Whether to bulk up or slim down, consumers are taking protein powder to complement their already healthy lifestyle choices. It's unfortunate to see high levels of contaminants that consumers readily categorize as health food.

CLP findings were consistent with the protein powder study completed by Consumer Reports. This tells us that there is room for the industry to do better.

P: Do you see any differences between Europe and the U.S. when it comes to environmental and process contaminants in food and supplements?

JB: I personally have not done extensive testing on European-based products. However, anecdotally, European products being cleaner than American products makes sense. With years of industrial agriculture, mining and now fracking, it's easy to identify where the industry and environmental contaminants are coming from within the American and global supply chain.

The European Union community has been very proactive when it comes to addressing a variety of consumer food concerns. Whether GMOs or the recent attention on acrylamide, it seems like Europe addresses the issues first and the U.S. eventually learns from that example.

P: How did you first come across Puori?

JB: Interesting enough, the whole reason that Clean Label Project did a protein powder study was that it was around the New Year and I was thinking about my New Year’s resolution.

So many people reach for protein powder as part of their healthy New Year routine. When CLP does a category study, we look to include the best sellers. We also scour the web looking at different consumer blogs and websites to see the brands that consumers were talking about. Puori consistently came up on CrossFit blogs. CrossFit is really hot in the U.S., so I knew we had to test it.

P: What's your favourite Puori product and why?

I’m going to actually give you two. The first one is PW1 Vanilla Protein Powder. This was the product that I pulled for the CLP protein powder study. It came out on top. I and CLP followers are big fans of the PW1 Vanilla for that reason.

The second one is actually the Puori D3 vitamin D supplement. CLP works closely with our medical advisory council members. One of them is an MD PhD and heads up a community health department. She was mentioning that nationally, people are chronically deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D can come from the sun. However, because of concern for skin cancer, so many of us use sunscreen, as we should.

However, many of us also spend a lot of time indoors, whether in our homes or at the office. So, we aren’t getting the exposure to this natural vitamin. She said that people, especially in northern climates, are consistently low in vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency has links to infertility and colon cancer. She encouraged me to go to the doctor and check my blood. I went to the doctor and I was low. Since then, I regularly take a vitamin D supplement. It’s nice to know that not only are you getting vitamin D with Puori D3. You also know you aren’t getting the bad stuff like high levels of heavy metals or pesticide residues.

P: What role does supplementation play in your daily life?

JB:  I'm a vegetarian, so making sure that I get protein, calcium and vitamin D is especially important to me. I try to eat right and diversify my diet, but I live a busy and crazy lifestyle. Having supplements that I can rely on to help me feel and look my best in the short term and long term is important to me.

P: How do maintain balance in life?

JB:  I’m always aspiring for "balance." For me, it’s about balancing work, family, health and being present. I know that I'm a better Executive Director when I am being a mindful and present daughter and partner. And I know that I'm a better daughter and partner when I am actively working in changing the food supply for the better.

I know that I can only be a great daughter, partner, and Executive Director by staying committed to my health.

P: What achievement are you most proud of in your life?

JB: This past January, I was fortunate enough to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. From the training to the perseverance, when I finally reached the top, it was such a sense of accomplishment. It was also very humbling. I tried to stay mindful on the climb by focusing on my breathing and being grateful for my strong body, mind, and lungs, for allowing me to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

jackie bowen on mountain

P: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

JB: How funny! Hmmm… I would say that I absolutely adore basset hounds. I was a foster family for Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California. I'm also now a volunteer for the High Country Basset Rescue here in Colorado. I have a rescue basset hound, Lulu, who is sitting at my feet as I write this.

jackie bowen basset hound

Also,  I'm an avid gardener. I have raised garden beds in my backyard and I'm anxiously awaiting the taste of this year’s summer tomatoes. This year, I'm growing Roma and cherry tomatoes, jalapeño peppers and spaghetti squash.