by Mitchell Clute
Now that this historic election cycle has wrapped up and Barack Obama is president-elect, key players in the naturals industry are curious to see how the presidency will affect policy on critical issues, including supplements regulation, the national organic program and federal approaches to genetically engineered crops.
On some issues, Obama weighed in before the election. On others, industry analysts must rely on speculation until Obama names his choices for key posts, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. In the past, these spots were filled with allies of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
How will Obama handle issues such as food safety, supplements and organics? "The short answer is, we just don't know," says Loren Israelsen, president of Salt Lake City-based supplements consulting firm the LDI Group and an author of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which Congress approved in 1994. "All we have are tantalizing tidbits. He's mentioned children's nutrition, and he's clearly enticing in terms of his thinking on organics, conservation and the respect for nature inherent in his world view."
From an agricultural standpoint, "It really is too soon to speculate what Obama's administration will mean for organics," says Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, based in Santa Cruz, Calif. "On the other hand, the 'O' word was actually used on his website, and he mentioned organics in an agricultural policy statement, so I think the fact that it's one of his interests is a great starting point."
"In Iowa, Obama was asked about labeling, and said if he became president he would support [mandatory] labeling of GE foods," says Craig Winters, executive director of The Campaign, a Seattle-based grassroots organization working for mandatory labeling. "We're very excited, and think he'll take a more critical look at this issue than previous administrations."
Israelsen envisions an agenda that will focus on issues of pure food and clean water, tougher approval processes for prescription drugs and an emphasis on food safety, including increased monitoring of imports, in light of ongoing issues such as melamine-tainted milk products from China.
"The world now is different then when DSHEA passed 14 years ago," Israelsen says. "We don't know how Obama will change policy [on industry issues], but in an Obama administration, the one thing we can count on is change. He's promised that, and I'm confident he will deliver."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 12/p. 6