By Len Monheit
Last week, for the second time in my life, I had the opportunity to participate, with my industry colleagues, in the Natural Products Association Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. As both a Canadian, and representative of the trade media, it was perhaps appropriate that I was offered the chance to roam and attach at large, but I found myself, for the better part of the afternoon, tagging along with the New York state delegation.
First, a bit of background.
This, as I indicated, was the second time I had participated. The first time was about four years ago (the association has now done about 11 of these) and ephedra and Senator Durbin were squarely on the industry agenda as was the perennial discussion regarding the fate of DSHEA. Well, Durbin is still around, ephedra is not, DHEA is (and much in the spotlight), another election is pending, food safety has replaced Bioterror specifically as a Washington top of mind priority, the economy is facing serious challenges, and presence and activities in Iraq is drawing criticism and attention.
Amidst this general backdrop, the industry came to Washington to meet with legislators and legislator representatives to talk about issues, constituency, priorities and positions. The morning was spent in preparation for lobby activities, including familiarization with current bills and positions, and even some delegate role playing with crafted scenarios including DHEA legislation (ban or restriction), and the proposed updating of the Child Nutrition Promotion Act to conform to current nutrition science. Still other Hill dialogue lobbyists were presented with, was the opportunity to weigh in on additions to the Farm Bill currently in conference, where Senator Harkin (D-Iowa) had scaled back his request to get all supplements included in the food stamp program as part of the Farm Bill, instead now seeking support for the addition of multivitamins to items covered by food stamps.
The organization and preparation for Lobby Day was phenomenal – even by my four year old standards. The Association was complimented and is certainly to be commended for preparing their lobbyists quite well, with scheduled meetings, background materials and overall preparation for the Capitol Hill environment. It was certainly reinforced that by far most of the meetings would be held with ‘young’ staffers, many of whom would be essentially new and unfamiliar with the industry perspective, and that was certainly the case.
Our own ‘New York’ delegation was a miniature microcosm of the industry itself, including a manufacturer, contract manufacturer, brand marketer, service provider, retailer and trade media representative. We were met by junior staffers and then, in an unusual meeting at Senator Clinton’s (D-NY) office, with a ‘Fellow’ from Columbia University responsible for health issues for the office. Here we were presented with an immediate perspective of the wake and fallout from last week’s Jane Brody New York Times article smashing supplements (appeared the very day we were on the Hill). Also, in an earlier meeting in Senator Schumer’s office (D-NY), as we began discussing DHEA with the ‘health’ staff assigned to meet with us, we became familiar with the disconnect on issues when informed that DHEA was really the responsibility of ‘Judiciary’, and not ‘Health’, and so the health benefits of DHEA were disconnected from a judiciary-based position (opposition), at least in that office.
In all of our meetings, the healthcare cost savings of supplements, as developed in the Lewin studies of a few years ago, were at least raised and appeared to garner some interest with the staffers we met.
The day concluded with a reception for lobbyists , staff and representatives and presentation of the Congressional Champion Award to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), with the event attended by Senators Hatch (R-Utah), Harkin (D-Iowa) and Tester (D-Montana) as well as Congressman Frank Pallone (D- New Jersey). I personally was overwhelmed by the number of staffers attending and the flow and mix of the event itself.
As a Canadian, I am aware that although there are challenges and deficiencies in perhaps every type of government imaginable, when lobbyists can go to Washington, representative voting record in hand and meet with their representative or staff to discuss issues of concern, then at least some measure of accountability has been incorporated into the system. When, as is repeatedly suggested, industry delegates, critical stats and personal stories in hand, meet in the district itself with their representatives and staff, then views can even be changed.
Overall, this was a great experience – both for me, as well as the other attendees, many veterans and a few first-timers. I continue to be amazed that more industry colleagues don’t take advantage of the opportunity – and need, to get involved in activities such as this.
Kudos to the Natural Products Association.