Having spent that March 23 and 24 in Washington DC first to participate in NPA's 13th annual Natural Products Lobby Day and then to lobby on behalf on one of my clients, I could not help but once again be impressed by the remarkable representation the natural products industry has in Washington. Anyone associated with the industry should acknowledge the hard work that John Gay (Executive Director) and Dan Fabricant (Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs) and everyone else at NPA along with industry lobbyists Jack Martin (Walker, Martin and Hatch) and Ed Long (Van Scoyoc Associates) undertake on our behalf every day. Without their efforts, I have no doubt that instead of having extremely productive meetings in my Senators' offices discussing the need to focus FDA on finally implementing DSHEA the way it was meant to be, I would have been engaged in a debate over the merits of Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) now defunct Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 ("DSSA").
This type of industry success on Capitol Hill has almost become routine, but two things struck me this year as reminders that we cannot take afford to take this for granted.
First, at the start of the day during the legislative briefing session designed to make sure that we understood the issues before meeting with our elected representatives, one member of the audience repeatedly questioned the commitment of NPA and other trade associations to protecting consumers' rights to free access to dietary supplements. This person appeared to be seriously misinformed by material circulated by members of Venable, LLP who are seeking to launch a "coalition" to help protect the supplement industry against legislative efforts such as Senator McCain's DSSA. The apparent asking price to join Venable's coalition is in excess of $10,000 a month! Confronted with the incredibly successful response to the DSSA by the Natural Products Association, the American Herbal Products Association, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the United Natural Products Alliance and other industry stalwarts, Venable continues to sound the call to arms by conflating (perhaps accidentally, perhaps not) parts of the Senate Food Safety legislation which our trade association supports, with provisions of the House version of that bill which we have already identified as troubling. Moreover, the person touting the Venable efforts repeatedly alluded to provisions in legislation that would be severely damaging to the supplement industry without being able to identify the legislation he was speaking about or the language that he was identifying as dangerous. For me at least, the bottom line take away from this was that we need to be careful of groups seeking to fear monger on one hand while asking for large sums of money on the other.
The other thing that stands out in my mind occurred at the very end of the day during NPA's reception to honor our congressional champions. While Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was graciously accepting his award I had the opportunity to thank Pattie DeLoatche, the Senator's Health Policy Director, for the great work their office did on convincing Senator McCain that the DSSA missed its mark and that he should pull back from that effort and instead join Senator Hatch and another great industry champion Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) in supporting targeted efforts to eliminate illegal steroids masquerading as dietary supplements from the market. Patty responded by telling me that I "could not know how much it meant" to hear someone actually thank her for doing something. Things on Capitol Hill have obviously been incredibly contentious the last couple of weeks and Members of Congress and their staff have clearly been subjected to a great deal of pressure, stress and downright nastiness. Despite this, Senators Hatch and Harkin and their staff managed to sit down in and in a civil, bipartisan way persuade Senator McCain to change course. For this work we all owe them a "thank you" and if you have a chance you should take a moment and shoot off an email or make a quick call to these offices and let them know you appreciate their efforts. I'm pretty certain it would be really appreciated.