5 things Dan Fabricant wants you to know now

Fabricant on politics, NDIs, "natural," GMOs and the country's most talked-about disease epidemic that isn't.

Dan Fabricant spent three years as the FDA’s chief supplements enforcer, and his quixotic quest to clean up the industry left some industry veterans fuming while others appreciated at least some of his efforts (NDIs have been universally panned).

He’s now the head of the industry trade group the Natural Products Association, and he’s traded in the bull’s-eye on his back for celebrity status, at least in this neck of the woods we call home.

At the SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas this month, Fabricant pooted forth on five issues that “are going to become more and more significant in 2015.” Here’s his list.

  • Politics: Living and breathing inside the beltway has certainly become part of Fabricant’s fabric. In today’s era of unhinged money influencing politicians, he said that “to not know what’s going on politically is a mistake.” He noted that the amount of money being thrown at U.S. House of Representatives members has increased 23 percent between 2010 and 2014, from $276 million to $361 million. In the Senate, longtime industry champion Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) “will be gone in 90 days.” He said industry members are “working on developing new champions.”
  • NDIs: The FDA’s draft New Dietary Ingredient guidance document was roundly panned when it was released in July 2011, to the point where Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch had to step in, pull rank and go straight to the head of the FDA. Fabricant hinted that one area the agency was looking to clarify was with “synthetic botanicals.” These are so-called “nature-identical” compounds, such as pterostilbene, which are exact molecular replicas as those found in nature, only they are synthesized. The FDA had ruled that these compounds could never be called a legitimate dietary ingredient. Now, it seems, this is up for consideration.
  • "Natural," defined: While Fabricant was at the FDA, his Natural Products Association had come out with a definition for natural as it relates to personal care products. Besides not being able to use petroleum-based products, the NPA produced a definition that included these points:

· Natural Ingredients: A product labeled "natural" should be made up of only, or at least almost only, natural ingredients and be manufactured with appropriate processes to maintain ingredient purity.
· Safety: A product labeled "natural" should avoid any ingredient with a suspected human health risk.
· Responsibility: A product labeled "natural" should use no animal testing in its development.
· Sustainability: A product labeled "natural" should use biodegradable ingredients and the most environmentally sensitive packaging.

That definition seemed to please the trade group, which went no further in providing clarity to the other classes of products. In the last few months, a new industry trade group, the Organic and Natural Health Association, has formed with the express mission of defining natural for the supplements, food and beverage industries (and likely personal care as well).
Fabricant has been less than praiseworthy of ONHA’s efforts, perhaps feeling they are stepping on the toes of the NPA. Regardless, it’s an issue whose time is ripe for the defining, what with lawyers doing the heavy lifting for the last couple of years. “Natural is up for debate,” said Fabricant. “There’s some federal legislation."

The view from here is that ONHA might settle down some ruffled feathers by reaching out and adopting some, most or all of NPA’s natural definition as it relates to personal care products. Whether that move would mean the NPA would make nice for the sake of the larger industry in the other categories remains in play.

  • GMOs: States from coast to coast are the hot spots in the battles between natural consumers and the biotech industry. Polls showing overwhelming consumer consensus for GMO labeling have been beaten back by the power of biotech bucks to sway consumers into rethinking their commitments. Fabricant merely noted that the “crops of concern” include soybeans, corn, cotton and sugar beets. This includes ingredients derived from those crops, such as vitamin E from soy, soy isoflavones and soy protein.
  • Ebola: In what may be the most over-rated disease in U.S. history (at press time, more people have married Kim Kardashian than have died from ebola in America), supplement companies have nevertheless capitalized on the talk and fear coming from media and political outlets. “It’s not good for our industry,” said Fabricant. “A few years ago there was H1N1. This doesn’t help anybody. Regulators have sent out warning letters, especially from FTC. Twenty years ago no one was looking at dietary supplements to treat pathogenic diseases.”


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