Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) e-mailed NFM to discuss the future of the supplements industry, how his new bill will shape manufacturing and what challenges the industry will face. His answers are below.
Q: What issues and challenges in Washington are facing the dietary supplement industry?
A: There are several reasons the dietary supplement industry will likely continue to be the target of congressional inquiries during the 111th Congress. First, last year’s elections gave the Democrats strong majorities in both houses of Congress. Second, they control the federal government’s Executive Branch, which includes the White House and all the regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration. Third, Congressman Henry Waxman is chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
True, he unseated longtime Chairman John Dingell, who is no friend of your industry. But Chairman Waxman has been the leading critic of the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act since its passage in 1994. In his book that was published last year, Henry devoted an entire chapter to what he believes is wrong with DSHEA.
Further exacerbating matters, the committee that Chairman Waxman oversees has jurisdiction over the FDA, which regulates dietary supplements. In fact, several of his former staff members now occupy important jobs with the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services – people such as Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the FDA’s Principal Deputy Commissioner who handles the agency’s daily operations and enforcement activities, and Bill Corr, HHS Deputy Secretary.
To be clear, the FDA’s regulatory actions have increased substantially. Now that the agency is finally receiving additional resources, I believe that we will see more agency activity for the foreseeable future. While these actions are important, they will undoubtedly lead to more bad press and further embolden critics of the industry to charge that there is a greater problem.
The industry’s response to this should be that these actions mean that the laws on the books are finally working and, as a result, bad actor companies are being removed from the market once and for all.
Q: What does the industry have working in its favor to combat these issues?
A: One important factor in the industry’s favor is that my colleague, Sen. Tom Harkin is now the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Tom is a friend to the industry, and he and I have worked together on a number of important dietary supplement issues.
Sen. Harkin and I believe that it is imperative for more companies to become actively involved in efforts to protect the responsible dietary supplement industry. Many of your companies are represented by trade organizations such as the Natural Products Association because these groups work for you every day. Of course, the Coalition to Preserve DSHEA also lobbies for your issues.
It is vitally important for you to continue to support these organizations. In Washington, if you don’t have a seat at the table, there is a good chance you will become the main course.
Unfortunately, too many in your industry have not participated in the political process and allowed a select few to represent them in our nation’s capital. Simply put, your industry can no longer afford to operate this way. You are all in this fight together. To emerge victorious, it is important to understand your opponents, the critics, are now much more sophisticated and can act faster than they did when Congress passed DSHEA in 1994.
The opposition realizes that they lost that bout due to the strength of your industry’s grassroots, and they will likely not make the same mistakes this time around. Therefore, you need to be more prepared and more involved in efforts to protect your industry.
Q: Given your role as a framer of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) what does the future hold for the industry?
A: For the past 15 years, I have fought continually to preserve the integrity of DSHEA. As hard fought as those bouts have been, I am afraid some of the most difficult battles lie ahead.
It is clear that your industry is outnumbered in Washington. For instance, the pharmaceutical, insurance and financial services industries each have hundreds of lobbyists. I am told your lobbyist numbers lag far behind – somewhere in the bottom third, between the bowling and outdoor advertising industries.
Take the time to meet your members of Congress. Invite them to your manufacturing plants and other places of business. Show them what a great industry you have and the good you do to keep people healthy with the safe products you make and sell. And make sure you emphasize what an important impact your industry has had on their state's economy.