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Is Ron Paul a true supplement industry champion?

The South Carolina primary is this Saturday, which could serve to close out the Republican nomination for Mitt Romney. But before you gamecocks cast your votes—and, because Ron Paul is likely in for the long haul regardless of his vote totals, really anybody casts their vote—let’s size up which candidate would be best for the supplements and natural health industries.

Ask industry leaders and legislative watchers who’s best for supplements, and you’ll invariably hear the names Hatch and Harkin. As in Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), co-authors of the seminal 1994 legislation, the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act.

And yet, in 2011 alone, one Congressman authored three separate pieces of legislation, which would make it easier to communicate the benefits behind supplements.

In May 2011, Texas Rep. Ron Paul introduced the Health Freedom Act (HR 2044), which would allow supplement manufacturers to make disease claims if studies showed a supplement did indeed demonstrate an ability to “prevent, cure, mitigate” a disease. It specifically says, “A food or dietary supplement for which a claim is made … is not a drug solely because of such claim.”

A companion piece of legislation, also introduced last May, was the Freedom of Health Speech Act (HR 2045). This would make it harder for the FTC to slap supplement makers with false advertising cases, specifically when it comes to talking about published studies. As it now stands, even if a study shows a supplement prevents, cures or mitigates a disease, the FTC is not likely to allow you to make that claim, because only drugs are allowed to do that. 

Then in September, Rep. Paul introduced the Testimonial Free Speech Act (HR 2908), which would allow testimonials in advertising.

Is Ron Paul marginalized?

I called Steve Mister, head of the Council for Responsible Nutrition and an inveterate Congress watcher, to ask why the industry doesn’t treat Ron Paul like the apparent industry champion he is.

“When you are looking for champions, you want people who share your philosophy but also people who can get things done,” said Mister, “So you want someone mainstream and respected enough by colleagues so if they go to their colleagues they can sway significant votes in their direction. Among Hatch and Harkins’s other qualities, they have stature with colleagues.”

Mister was apparently referring to Ron Paul’s almost perfect Congressional record of getting nothing passed. That’s right, in Ron Paul’s 14 years in Congress he has sponsored 464 bills, of which a grand total of one has passed Congress (which got some land given to a historical society in his home district).

Ouch! Point for Mister. Guess we won’t be ending the Fed anytime soon.

I wonder if Ron Paul’s ideas would stand greater chance of passage if someone else co-sponsored them who didn’t look and sound like a cranky uncle with too much wine in him on Thanksgiving.

Turns out Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) co-sponsored a similar bill to Paul’s 2011 efforts, the Free Speech About Science Act (HR 1364), which purports to improve “access to legitimate scientific research to make decisions to improve their personal health.”

While prospects for that bill remain on the low side, at least Chaffetz has been able to sway all of four co-sponsors for his legislation, which (ahem) is four times more than Paul has been able to corral for any of his three pieces of legislation.

But wouldn’t those bills gain greater sway if the industry, in particular the trade groups, got behind them? Rally the troops and all that?

“CRN has not supported either of those bills. We haven’t opposed but we haven’t supported either,” explained Mister. “We are concerned some of Ron Paul’s views may go too far in the other direction. The responsible industry needs safeguards for responsible claims. We support some FTC actions so hucksters won’t say outrageous things.”

Turns out Ron Paul’s views on supplements may be too purist for the establishment to accept. Which, of course, is part of his allure. And this is how politics in America works: You can be a purist who gets nothing done (see Paul, Ron), or you can compromise yourself into moving the rock up the hill, albeit incrementally (see Obama, Barack).

Let the voting begin!

Ron Paul quotes supporting supplements

For your red-meat sampling pleasure, here are some of Ron Paul’s greatest sound bites when it comes to supporting supplements.

  • “Americans use supplements because they can buy them freely at stores and research them freely on the Internet, without government interference in the form of doctors, prescriptions, HMOs, and licenses. In free societies, individuals decide what medical treatments or health supplements are appropriate for them.” – April 26, 2005
  • “Big Pharma and the medical establishment hate this Act [DSHEA], because it allows consumers some measure of freedom to buy the supplements they want. Americans like this freedom, however—especially the health conscious Baby Boomers.” July 19, 2005
  • “Everyone knows that the FDA is friendly to drug companies (which pay its bills and provide good revolving door jobs) and hostile to supplement companies.” – Feb 5, 2010
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