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Who you might meet in the halls of Congress

By Steve Mister Esq., President and CEO

I want to start by thanking you for taking a few moments to check out this blog. CRN has been blogging with its members for about a year and a half now and we're excited to have this new platform with NPIcenter and It's like getting a much bigger soapbox!

This past week, more than 100 new lawmakers swore oaths to defend and support the Constitution of the United States and took their places in the 112th Congress. Yes, they are largely Republican; many are Tea Partyists. Among their numbers are a professional football player, a pizzeria owner, a car dealer, a roofing contractor, three nurses and doctors of dentistry, osteopathy, anesthesiology, ophthalmology (two, actually) and cardiothoracic surgery. What an eclectic group!

Being a habitual pragmatist, my first thought is how will this freshman class of Congress impact the dietary supplement industry? We managed to survive the assault of the McCain bill last year, and we spent the last two years waiting for the proverbial next shoe to drop with Congressman Waxman leading the Energy & Commerce Committee. Now we move to Republican control of the House, but Senator McCain is indicating that he won't seek re-election, so he may be less concerned with any grassroots responses to his legislative plans.

With each new Congress we lose a few more members who were around in 1994 and remember the events leading to the passage of DSHEA. And in years with turnover like this one, we lose more than a few. Without that institutional memory, it's easier for our opponents to infuse the myth that, prior to 1994, supplements were more regulated than they are today (they weren't!), and that DSHEA somehow rolled back the regulation of our products (it didn't!). At CRN we've been combating this misinformation on several fronts: First, we routinely respond to consumer press that says supplements aren't regulated or refers to our industry as "the Wild West."

At the same time, we have to consistently work to build the climate for supplements into a workable regulatory system that gives our mainstream consumers confidence that there is sufficient regulation of our products that they can trust. That's why CRN has supported incremental approaches that don't upset the fundamental framework of DSHEA – like the AER law, GMPs, mandatory recall authority for FDA, biennial registration for facilities, etc.

As the marketplace evolves, so too must the regulation. And by working to manage the legislative and regulatory environment in ways we can live with, we can head off more draconian approaches to legislating. One of the persuasive arguments against further restrictions is to point to all the requirements already in place and argue that we have to give these new tools time to work before adding more layers of bureaucracy. And by keeping these additional tools in the public spotlight, it's getting a lot harder for our critics – or journalists – to accurately say we're not regulated.

Back to this new Congress: Our greatest goal in the next six months is to reach as many new members of Congress as we can and inoculate them about the benefits, safety and regulation of dietary supplements before they start listening to our detractors instead. If you are a dietary supplement manufacturer, ingredient supplier, distributor, retailer, or other company otherwise allied with this industry, and you just sent a newbie member of Congress to Washington, this is your chance to really make a difference.

Take a minute to contact that person and tell them that your business in the dietary supplement industry supports jobs in their district or state. Let them know that you are proud of the products this industry creates and the healthy advantages our products provide to millions of consumers. Tell them about the rigorous safety testing and laboratory analysis your products and their ingredients go through. Encourage them to join the Dietary Supplement Caucus in Congress so they can stay informed about emerging issues in this industry that will affect their constituents.

For our part, we've already started educating this new Congress. We're focusing first on members of the key committees that might have jurisdiction over supplement issues, setting up meetings and getting to know the staffers they assign to healthcare and FDA-related matters. These are the folks that would have the most influence in a potential committee hearing to ask critical questions, to influence their colleagues' votes, or to actively oppose a bill.

In addition, we're taking a close look at the new members of Congress with a connection to healthcare professions. As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of doctors and nurses in this freshman class. When it comes to health-related matters, we know these legislators will get the attention of their colleagues and will be relied upon as "experts" on these issues. We also know from studies conducted among healthcare professionals through our "Life…supplemented" initiative that the majority of healthcare professionals both take and recommend dietary supplements.

Every two years, hope springs anew in D.C. It's a fresh start and a new opportunity to develop coalitions. I'm optimistic that the 112th Congress will be a favorable one for this industry. We have the grassroots strength, the insider access and shoe leather to protect this industry and secure its place as part of mainstream healthcare in this country. And if I can meet a professional football player, a pizzeria owner, an auctioneer or an airline pilot in the halls of the Capitol at the same time, why not?

(The CRN Blog represents the view of the author and does not necessarily reflect the view of CRN's Board of Directors or serve as an official position of the association.)

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