Natural products lobbyist says education is the key to persuasion

Natural products lobbyist says education is the key to persuasion

Natural products lobbyist Jack Martin reveals the surprising truth behind what members of Congress know about the dietary supplements space and their opinions on regulation.

For 20 years, Jack Martin has been working as a lobbyist on behalf of the natural products industry with the firm Walker, Martin and Hatch. He shares his experience here with Functional Ingredients.

Functional Ingredients: How much of your job is persuasion and how much is education?

Jack Martin: Educating congressional staff takes a majority of our time. With the high amount of turnover in congressional staff that occurs in both houses of Congress, we are constantly educating new people.

The persuasion is a byproduct of the education. When we meet with staff we provide information about the industry in general and the objectives of the industry—to keep people healthy. We also provide information about the economic impact the industry has on the state or the district, such as how many jobs we provide. The industry and the good we do make the case for keeping this industry healthy.

Fi: How do members of Congress view our industry?

JM: Most members of Congress take dietary supplements on a daily basis. Some only take a multivitamin daily, others take minerals and herbs along with a vitamin. This provides a positive impression for the industry.

Unfortunately, the media has not helped the industry maintain a posture of safety. For example, spiked or mislabeled supplements require FDA action to remove the product from the market. When that happens the industry in general is blamed for the problems caused by bad players pretending to sell legitimate supplements.

In these instances, it is not uncommon for the media to editorialize that industry is unregulated and that FDA needs more authority to prevent these actions from happening. That assertion is incorrect; the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) has given the FDA plenty of enforcement powers to regulate the industry. But these stories still hurt us in Congress.

It is important to note that there are very powerful members of Congress in both houses who think this industry needs more regulation. These members believe that all products taken into the body should have a “drug-like review.”

Fi: I read that less than 25 percent of Congress was in office when DSHEA was passed. Is that true?

JM: Thirty-seven members of the Senate were here when DSHEA passed in 1994. This means that 63 members were not here when the law passed. The House numbers are probably pretty close to the Senate in percentage.  This reinforces the importance of constantly educating congressional staff.

Fi: Is it inevitable that at some point we will be more strictly regulated?

JM: I am not sure that this industry realizes how lucky they are to have the support of Senators Hatch and Harkin. They not only are the authors of DSHEA but continue to provide leadership to the industry. Both believe in the integrity and safety of the products and both hold leadership positions in the Senate in committees of jurisdiction.

We also have strong support in the House of Representatives with the four Dietary Caucus Chairmen, Representatives Burton, Pallone, Polis and Chaffetz. The Caucus has quite a few other members in both houses who follow the industry. Because of this support in both houses, we have been able to fight off many attacks on the industry and attempts to over-regulate the industry by adding burdensome new regulations that would suppress innovation and growth.

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