This originally was published in Yahoo Voices, in 2011. These articles were released from Yahoo, back to the authors, as they shut down the writer’s contributor program July 31, 2014.
This is my second article on buying Moringa powder from overseas. In my first article I explained how my research into companies from India had discovered one company using a falsified organic certificate and many others who would not supply me with proof of their organic or organically grown product claims. I ended up losing $600 on an order to one company during this learning process.
This article is for those interested in importing Moringa and other food or dietary supplements. Seek advice and counsel before you import anything. Do not rely on the company you are importing from to give you sound advice. Do not let them determine the way the order is shipped.
The Second Chapter in Importing Moringa Products:
I finally found one company through research that proved to have genuine organic certificates. I then went through the steps of placing an order. Research at this step, is as critical as researching the company and product you want to sell. The import charges on some products are so high that it is not worth it to import the product. To be competitive in the market, you may not be able to sell it at a profit after the import charges. Get an estimate of the import charges before you order. I did not do that. I was too inexperienced.
Payment to Foreign Countries:
The method in which you pay them deserves a whole article in itself. There are payment methods that are secure and ones that are not. No matter how you pay them, if they choose to send you bad product or no product, you probably won't get your money back. Pay pal is the safest way to pay companies. Ordering by credit card, gives you some protection. Call your credit card company and have them explain the rules and guarantees that apply to foreign purchases.
Many foreign companies ask for a bank transfer, which does not give much of a guaranteee, if the product is bad. You have little recourse for return of your money. You can get the company shut down for fraudulent business practices through the agencies in Europe, but that is an ordeal. That process is slow, not always effective, and takes months often. It is very difficult to get your money back.
Rule #1: Have them supply you with a sample of their product and packaging. Why do this? Even though the product may be great, it still has to go through the hurdles on FDA label specifications. There are pages of rules on how the label should look and read on a dietary supplement. This detail goes into where it should be placed on the bottle, wording that is legal, and font size. I am completely serious. If your product does not meet FDA and Customs specifications, your product will not be passed for resale by either agency. Refuse to buy unless you get a sample of their product and labels.
Test the Samples at a US lab:
Don't buy the product without first getting a sample from them and testing it yourself. Organic certified or any product may contain bugs, dirt, mold, bacteria, E-coli, and other contamination that could make your customers sick. Testing helps insure you don't end up in a lawsuit. Even if the company states that the product is tested, test it yourself by a lab in the US. Organic certified does not guarantee the product does not contain bugs, mouse parts, E-Coli and other contamination.
Make sure you receive a proper invoice: Make sure the products are not sold to you as a sample or personal order. It must be sold to you for resale.
Label Errors: An example of this. The jar says grown and packaged in India. That is not legal language. According to customs it must say ' Product of India or Made in India' or whatever country you imported it from. FDA has its own pages of label requirements and restrictions. Each one is critical to them in their compliance rules. There are attorneys who specialize in helping to get your product released from the FDA and who review your labels for legality. This is how complicated the FDA-Customs system becomes. That process involves a lot of money and time. The rules change constantly and get more complicated so research well.
Why not just fix the label yourself? If you handle the bulk product and repackage it you are subject to certain licenses and inspections. These are part of the Good Manufacturing Practice Laws that apply now to every business no matter what the size. If you take that bulk product and make another food item out of it that involves more licenses. According to law you must also secure a special handler's license just to touch the current label on a product or make your own label. There are many companies making their own labels that are not legal. That license to touch a label costs about $1000 with layers of red tape. You must be audited by the FDA physically by showing them the way you invoice and keep records on a regular basis. You can send the bulk product to a company who carries those permits. They will re-bottle it, re-bag it, or re-label it, but it will cost you. Many of these companies only accept orders of 1000 bottles or more. If the shipment is small, you can't get it done. Packaging it at home makes it illegal to sell online or through the mail. You can get a licence to sell it directly to customers at a farmer's market. There are rules and regulations for packaging it at home as well.
How You ship your order is critical: The following information applies to cargo that comes by air plane into the United States such as British Airways. Do read the critical information regarding import and export of food supplements before you get surprised as I did. My good experience with Fed-Ex Global left me completely unprepared for the fees and hassle that goes with shipping by regular air cargo. If you ship by ocean freight, it is governed by a whole different set of rules and regulations. Visit an import broker for all the rules and paperwork required.
Depending on the way you ship, you may have to pay fees both in the country you ordered the product from and fees on this side to pick it up...big fees.
My first order came through Fed-Ex Global with no problems. Fed-Ex has its own customs agents and a lot of clout. Fed-Ex Global or DHL is given fewer problems than shipping by standard air or ship. They make sure your paperwork is done properly such as import charges, customs charges, and classification of your product. It costs more but Fed-Ex is the way to proceed. That does not mean your package cannot be flagged for exam and sampling but the risk is lower. If the product packaging is in error, you could still end up with your package frozen by the FDA. There are pages of label laws, so it is easy for a foreign company to leave off important little details.
If you ship via British Airways, it goes to Los Angeles first in my case, then is trucked down to San Diego several days later. That costs you time. It is held by the holding company until it is cleared by both customs and the FDA. You get several days free, then you are charged $30 bucks per day until it is cleared. That could be within the free days or a week later. Mine sat around for almost 4 days accumulating charges.
Hire an Import Broker: To get the package cleared, you need to hire an Import Broker. If you try and complete the paperwork yourself without experience, you will end up filing paperwork that may be incorrect or missing information that keeps it from being cleared. They give you a harder time if you don't hire one. It will cost you more when inexperienced to do the paperwork yourself, because of the holding company fees.
The import broker can cost from $165.00 on up to hundreds of dollars. You must pay an import bond to get your package out. It is either paid on a one time basis or yearly. Its cost depends on the value of the shipment. You pay a courier fee to send the paperwork back and forth. Your updates on your package come through your import agent. I was told by the trucking company that British Airways gets much more intense examination flags than Fed-Ex or DHL on their packages.
If you live in a city such as San Diego, CA where there is high drug traffic, there are more intense exams required on imports. If you are a new importer or fail to get an import broker before your package arrives, you are flagged most of the time. Any border city will have a greater chance of being flagged.
What is a Conditional Release: Your product can be taken home after customs has passed it but cannot be sold or used personally until you get the FDA Clearance. It can be recalled by the FDA at any point until it is cleared. The good thing is that it is not accumulating charges by the trucking company at least. You will end up in court if you sell your product before it is cleared. You must keep it in a local location where it can be examined again if needed. This is all law. If the FDA does not clear your product, you have a choice to comply with their required corrections, export it back at your expense, or watch while they destroy your product.
FDA Hold Form: This tells you the FDA doesn't like the looks of the product or packaging. It may also mean that you just got lucky and were flagged for an ‘intense examination’ of your product. This means they take samples of your product and send it to their lab for evaluation. This could involve other tests as well. This could take days or weeks. You cannot sell or use your product until it's cleared. You are at a standstill during this process.
Residence Exemption: This means if the product imported is for personal use only, they can speed the paperwork up. Some companies are selling their product having received it through that exemption. Legally, you don't really have the right to resell it. This is how some of the Moringa products are getting through customs without trouble. The problem with this is once you are caught doing this, you are in deep trouble with these agencies. You may be assessed fines and even court action. If you don't receive a FDA clearance to sell your product, you are selling illegally.
Refusal Entry letter: This means your product failed inspections or clearance. You are given the choice to send it back under supervision, destroy the products under supervision, or they can take you to court. You do not have the choice to just walk away from the shipment.
I will end this article here. My package is still tied up in FDA red tape. It may be released tomorrow or weeks from now. There is no telling at this point what they will require if anything for compliance. I will write an update on the import problems as things go along. I thought I would take you through the process while I go through it, so you don't make the same mistakes. Right now I have paid more customs charges, than I paid for the shipment originally. I have no idea when it will be cleared, if it will be cleared by the FDA, and what it will cost for compliance. Import lessons can get very expensive.
I have listed many pages on FDA and GMP rules and regulations. Take Excedrin before you start reading, it will give you a headache. This is a general article and you should seek an expert for your own imported product. Things change every day.
The product was declared contaminated, with label violations, and designated an 'undeclared drug' because India makes health claims on their websites for Moringa. The India website was printed on the bottle. The shipment was refused and ordered to either be returned to India or destroyed under Custom’s supervision. Read the story further here,
References: Learning the hard way.
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