One new tweet every 15 seconds about your product during the SuperBowl. Now there’s a target that any product marketer to the United States would love, but it caused more than a few moments of stress for New Zealand velvet over the past couple of weeks.
Two weeks ago, a passing comment in the widely read Sports Illustrated referred to Fijian golfer Vijay Singh – 46th in the world rankings – taking a US product called ‘Ultimate Spray’. Reportedly unbeknownst to him the product, a liquid spray delivered under the tongue to enhance performance during training, contains IGF-1, a banned substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Professional Golf Association’s (US PGA)’s lists. The product is based on a concentrate of a growth factor found occurring naturally in many animal derived proteins but in this case extracted from New Zealand deer antler velvet. The story exploded onto the US and New Zealand media and took on a life of its own.
New Zealand media, eager for a story, questioned veteran golfer Sir Bob Charles who commented that he thought he might have breached anti-doping laws, as he’d been taking New Zealand velvet capsules containing whole deer velvet powder for years.
However, Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) chief executive Mark O’Connor says this is not the case and that misunderstanding of the two very different substances at question is to blame. He has spoken to Sir Bob Charles to assure him he should certainly not assume he would have failed drug tests and has worked with the Ministry for Primary Industries on the issue and also provided background material about the products to Drug Free Sport NZ and NZ Golf.
“We cited scientific literature showing no statistically significant changes in IGF-1 levels following supplementation with deer velvet.”
The fact is that IGF-1 is a hormone, a muscle growth promotant, that is present naturally at very low trace levels in many animal derived proteins, including red meat. “A 200ml glass of fresh milk, for example, contains more IGF-1 than a fairly large dose of velvet (1,000mg). Also, the chance of IGF-1 surviving the stomach environment unmodified or denatured is very low,” he says.
The IGF-1 sprays purportedly contain a concentrated extract of the hormone from deer velvet. However, the actual quantities of IGF-1 are still very small, he explains, adding thatIGF-1 does naturally occur in deer velvet at very low levels of around 200 to 1,100 nanograms per gram of freeze-dried velvet.
“A nanogram is one billionth of a gram. To put this in perspective, IGF-1 is produced naturally in people as part of how they grow. A 30 year old male will have between approximately 456,000 to 1.7 million nanograms of IGF-1 circulating in his body at any one time. So the additional IGF-1 delivered by these sprays is very small and there is no evidence that they actually deliver IGF-1 in a way that it can be used by the body.”
According to O’Connor, tthe refining changes the material from whole New Zealand deer velvet, which is not banned, to an product marketed are a source of IGF-1, which is banned by WADA and the US PGA.
“Whole New Zealand deer velvet powder is not a banned substance and taking a velvet supplement for health and well-being shouldn’t be a problem at all.”
The US coverage – which amounted to over 2,500 stories over the weekend of 2/3 February , says O’Connor – ensured that awareness about New Zealand velvet was raised “exponentially” over the week. During the Superbowl, a tweet every 15 seconds during the record four hours 15 minute game was referring to the product as one of the players was also thought to have been taking the banned extracted substance.
US importers of New Zealand deer velvet are said to be pleased about the coverage as awareness and interest about velvet has been raised with the association with a range of high profile American sports stars.
The US imports about five percent of New Zealand’s deer velvet production. The majority of exports go to Asia where it is well known for its contribution to health and well-being.