The natural products industry successfully joined forces May 22 when the supplement industry came under fire. Leaders say they gained ground but fall short of calling the actions a win. However, quick collaborative action cemented relationships and showed the importance of industry efforts from the grassroots to the board rooms to Capitol Hill.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) lobbed a last-minute amendment effort at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Safety and Innovation Act that many considered anti-supplement. Word came late that Tuesday and by the next day five industry groups came out with one voice in a joint statement, and began enacting a plan for their lobbyists and marshalling grassroots activists.
The groups were:
- American Herbal Products Association
- Consumer Healthcare Products Association
- Council for Responsible Nutrition
- Natural Products Association
- United Natural Products Alliance
The Natural Products Association alone counted more than 2,000 messages sent to members’ senators via its website. The association has 1,900 manufacturer and retail members representing more than 10,000 locations.
A 77-20 vote on Thursday felt like a victory as the Senate tabled the amendment that would have set new requirements for dietary supplement manufacturers to register all products and their ingredients with the FDA within 30 days of introduction, reformulation or discontinuation. But industry leaders say the issue isn’t going away as Durbin has pushed this agenda in various forms.
Industry collaboration hailed as 'smoothest ever'
The coalition effort by natural associations shows that collaboration works and lays groundwork for future efforts that are sure to rise. Association leaders have worked well together for years but it was government effort that really brought the groups together more formally about a year and a half ago. Directors now gather monthly to discuss legislative and regulatory issues and how they can cooperate.
Those relationships, they say, allowed them to put forth one industry face very quickly. Travis Gibbons, associate director of federal affairs for the 79 manufacturer member CHPA, pointed out that the groups have worked on amendments in the past but called this effort the smoothest ever and said it was a direct result of past collaboration.
That strong, singular voice made all the difference, they say.
“Five of us speaking together as one voice is always going to be louder than any of us individually,” said Elizabeth Hurst, NPA’s government relations manager. “Especially on issues like this, it is going to be so important for us to be able to (do that). We already have those lines of communications established so that when something like this happens we can move quickly and coordinate.”
And while some associations don’t have large grassroots organizers themselves, they all point to the importance of the natural health industry gathering as a whole—from consumer to retailer to manufacturers and all who use or engage in the business.
“Issues like this make you realize how valuable the dietary supplement industry’s grassroots are,” said Mike Greene, vice president of government affairs at CRN, which doesn’t have its own grassroots constituents. “Whether through retailers, direct sellers, consumer groups, they are valuable and they are what make the dietary supplement industry unique, it is what makes lobbying and our form of advocacy on Capitol Hill unique.”
On the consumer front, Greene noted the importance of the organizations Citizens for Health and the Alliance for Natural Health, which boasted nearly 90,000 messages against the Durbin amendment being sent in less than 24 hours.
Coalition members, however, caution from prematurely celebrating success.
“It’s important to remember issues affecting dietary supplements don’t go away,” Hurst said. “It’s important to never feel complacent. Something like this can happen in 24 hours, so we always need to be ready.”