15 minutes with Loren Israelsen

At a recent Nutrition Business Journal Summit, Loren Israelsen, president of United Natural Products Alliance, rocked the audience with his speech, 'Industry Turbulence — Buckle Up.' Israelsen voiced a dichotomous discourse going on from Capitol Hill to town hall meetings — while DSHEA is coming 'under assault,' a growing number of Americans simply can't pay for their healthcare and are turning to dietary supplements. Fi asked Israelsen to expand on what the industry should be doing while healthcare is top of mind. Israelsen will serve as the chair for the Healthy Ageing track at Nutracon 2010.

Fi: Rather than 'save the vitamins,' your advice is to 'beat the drum of preserving the fundamental access to the kind of healthcare Americans want.' Can you elaborate?

LI: We now have a choice that could determine how the US dietary-supplements industry is regulated for years to come. Fifteen years ago we fought and won the battle known as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Since then we have seen the issue move from saving our supplements to saving our integrity and credibility. We have endured a continuing line of criticism that supplements (in the US) are not regulated. That is nonsense.

This rhetoric persists because there has been and continues to be a failure to get serious about disciplined self regulation, and a government enforcement gap that has been interpreted as evidence that this is not a regulated industry.

The latter problem will shortly be addressed. A new FDA is on the scene, and they are going to enforce DSHEA and lots of other laws and regulations covering the full range of foods, drugs, cosmetics and devices; and by the way, tobacco products.

Amidst all this is a massive debate on how to deliver healthcare to millions of uninsured Americans and millions more facing the prospect of financial ruin and lost health in the event of sickness or injury. What is becoming clear is many people, me included, want to be protected in the event of catastrophic illness or accident but I DO NOT want the US government telling me how to manage my health or what approach to self care I may use.

This is where the great opportunity and risk lies — do we spend our time and resources gaining the consumer's trust and confidence by a resolute march toward quality and safety, or do we spend millions asserting our sovereign right to sell what we want and claim what we want but neglecting the fundamental task of first assuring our consumers they are in safe hands with us?

Our consumers will come to our defense if we respect a basic obligation — help them find and use the best products available. Mess that up and our message to 'save our supplements' will not ring true. As the health care-reform debate rages on we should be about the business of making sure our boat is seaworthy for the voyage to the land of self-guided, natural self-care.

Fi: You rub shoulders with some pretty impressive people in Washington and around the globe, where the dress code is suits and ties. Is it true you've given up wearing neckties?

LI: If I thought they would make me smarter, I would wear two. Years ago I decided to go with black turtlenecks … only once did someone complain. And he was a jerk to begin with. I do wear ties at weddings and funerals. But I did just exchange ties with a really great Swedish doctor — his tie is only worn by the members of the Robert Barany Society. And I am not a member. Perfect!

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