WASHINGTON--On Oct. 21, the "Rally on Capitol Hill" brought approximately 130 dietary supplement industry members to D.C. to meet with their legislative representatives and discuss the pending bills affecting the future of dietary supplements. Congressional meetings were scheduled at 110 House and 63 Senate offices for retailers, manufacturers, ingredient suppliers and other industry proponents. The rally was sponsored by Virgo Publishing; co-sponsored by Cognis Nutrition & Health, Draco Natural Products, GNC, Natrol, New Hope Natural Media, NOW Foods and Reliance Vitamins; and endorsed by the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA), American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), Utah Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) and Citizens for Health.
"It is great to see so many associations, companies and individuals get behind this effort," said Jon Benninger, director of business development at Virgo Publishing. "We are all in this fight together."
The day started off with an industry meeting featuring NNFA executive director David Seckman, AHPA president Michael McGuffin, Citizens For Health executive director Ana Micka and others speaking about the legislative threats facing the industry. Most talks revolved around Sen. Richard Durbin's (D-Ill.) S 722, which could seriously affect how dietary supplements are regulated.
The legislative backgrounder was followed by a Lobbying 101 session from Washington-based Capitol Associates, which helped organize the day-long meetings between industry and Congress. The group noted most industry members would meet with staffers rather than elected representatives, but to not be disheartened due to the aides' influence in their offices. Attendees received meeting guidelines to keep the conversation focused: supplements are not drugs, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) provides substantial protection for consumers, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to implement the law. Attendees also were reminded to ask for a legislative commitment to SB 1538, a bill introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) that would provide funding to the FDA for the implementation of DSHEA.
Gail Montgomery, president of Purchase, N.Y.-based Nutrition 21, said the tips were important: "At times like these, you need a simple message."
Rep. Frank Pallone (R-N.J.) made an appearance before attendees headed off to their meetings. "You can make an effort today, but it needs to be part of a long-term effort," he said. "Plan to follow up this effort."
In many meetings, attendees found the legislators had not decided on their position on the pending bills. Such ambiguity didn't slow down the participants. Laurie Manny of Cone's Health Foods in Bakersfield, Calif., left Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) a petition from consumers who were against SB 722. Other industry members found a decidedly chilly reception. Suzanne Shelton, an industry consultant from Illinois, said the meeting in Durbin's office lasted an hour but involved two stony-faced aides. However, several attendees reported positive results. For example, at Sen. John Kyl's (R-Ariz.) office, legislative correspondent Mike Thompson told gatherers the calls and emails opposing SB 722 have been having an effect. Debra Short of Debra's Naturally reported the staff at her meeting in Sen. Jim Inhofe's (R-Okla.) office was well versed on the issues at hand and alluded to the senator being against SB 722, although Short said she'd have to check back on SB 1538. And Carol Delarosa, owner of Honey Bee Natural Foods in Brownwood, Texas, reported positive feedback from her congressmen's offices.
Seckman said the rally was effective on two levels. "We were able to unite a rather broad array of retailers, suppliers and consumers for a common cause: defeat of SB 722 and support of SB 1538," he said. "And, I believe our efforts definitely had an impact, particularly on those legislators who may not have been familiar with or decided where they stand on these bills."
"As most of the participants found, the Rally provided a real opportunity to speak with our elected representatives, and they and their staff members were often receptive to our message," said McGuffin. "Now that we have initiated these relationships, however, it is up to each of us to maintain them by communicating with our Senators and Representative regularly and often."
Additional Quotes from Sponsors:
"Cognis is proud to be part of this important effort. The Rally Day helped open some doors for our industry and now we must work together to leverage new opportunities through credible programs that reinforce the messages delivered this week on The Hill."
--Kathleen Moran, Global Market Segment Manager, Dietary Supplements, Cognis
Nutrition & Health
"GNC felt our support of Lobby Day was required to help set the tone for the rest of the industry that we regard the education and lobbying of Congress as part of a continuing business process not just a liquidating one day event."
--Joe Bresse, Vice President of Product Development and Industry Relations, GNC
"Natrol is proud to have supported the events surrounding lobby day. Virgo Publishing is to be applauded by all of us for stepping up to the plate as the major underwriter for this necessary activity. I urge all of our colleagues to take the time to get involved now. Support the need to protect our freedom of choice. It is at stake. Failure to take action now, when it is needed, can only result in the ultimate loss of our privileges."
--Elliott Balbert, President, Natrol Inc.
"I was astounded to see how few members and staff on Capitol Hill were familiar with our industry or were knowledgeable about the facts on DSHEA. It is critically important that everyone get involved in events like Rally Day. The future of continued consumer access to dietary supplements is at risk."
--Fredrik M. Linder, President, New Hope Natural Media
"The Rally on Capitol Hill was an example of how quickly the Industry can mobilize into political action. While it was a wonderful to see this outpouring of support, the lesson we all should have learned from this experience is constant vigilance. As an industry, we can not be lulled into any false sense of security. We must become political animals and use whatever influence we have to prevent bad laws from being enacted. I would encourage everyone to mark their calendars for next year's event (March, 2004) and make a point of being in Washington to exercise your political rights."
--Jim Roza, Director of Quality Assurance, NOW Foods
"The day gave us an opportunity to get in front of our representatives in congress to ensure that our industries concerns are being addressed. Specifically that they support S1538 and don't support S722. We hope that others in the industry will join us in this fight to preserve DSHEA which will continue to require grassroots efforts and financial support."
--Phil Vigeant, Reliance Vitamin Company