Natural products industry reacts to election with elation, caution

Natural products industry reacts to election with elation, caution

Reaction to the election in the natural products industry was swift and forceful, but mixed, too.  Notes of caution were sounded against a groundswell of good feeling.

Reaction to the election in the natural products industry was swift and forceful, but mixed, too. Notes of caution were sounded against a groundswell of good feeling.

Some in the industry lauded the results – no surprise as a Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives could be assumed to be no friend to an amped-up regulatory atmosphere. But others noted that industry foes were returned to office, and the upcoming committee assignment process and the horse trading during the lame-duck session pose risks.

"What does (the election) mean? For our industry, we don't know yet," said Loren Israelsen, executive director of the United Natural Products Alliance. "The critical assignments of who is on what committee is still to be worked out."

"We are excited by the election results," said NOW Foods President and CEO Al Powers. "We were very involved in the election and had invited local candidates to tour the facility, learn more about our industry and the issues."

Powers said three victors in Illinois races – Senator-elect Mark Kirk,  Representative-elect Randy Hultgren, and incumbent Rep. Peter Roskam, all Republicans – have agreed to participate in the Dietary Supplement Caucus in the coming term.

"Developing relationships with those who will be making decisions that impact our industry is key to our success," Powers said.

Like many veteran political watchers, Natural Products Association Executive Director and CEO John Gay had foreseen a major power shift in Washington.

“This was the most remarkable election in my 25 years in Washington,” Gay said, “and the effects will be felt almost immediately.”

Gay advised industry leaders to be vigilant in the upcoming lame-duck session, when some legislators may take a last crack at passing laws.

"We've been preparing for the possibility that senators and representatives soon to be out of power may try to slip their pet proposals into must-pass pieces of legislation, like the spending bill," said Gay. "We'll have to keep a watch on them."

Gay said the shift to a GOP-controlled House isn't a make-or-break issue. "The champions and a number of threats remain," he said.

Scott Steinford, president of ZMC-USA, agreed, saying, "The nutrition industry has and will continue to raise its standards and it is our responsibility to educate both the legislators and the consumers that our direction is right and our current policies are effective regardless of which party is in control of the government."

But Gay noted there is a major effect of the changeover – Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Cal., a longtime industry opponent, will lose his chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"The informed speculation is that  Fred Upton of Michigan will be the new chairman.  We have no industry experience with him," Israelsen said. 

In the Senate, longtime industry supporters Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Tom Harkin, D-Ill., remain.  Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won re-election after surviving a stiff primary challenge. McCain last session briefly introduced the Dietary Supplement Safety Act that purported among other things to protect athletes from accidentally ingesting banned substances via contaminated supplements.  McCain withdrew the legislation after feedback from industry.

"Will he introduce another version of his (bill), or will he continue to work with Senator Hatch? That is a key question," said Gay.

Both Powers and Gay urged industry leaders to engage their newly-minted legislators, who have just spent an enormous amount of energy getting elected and likely none on learning about some of the more arcane aspects of their new jobs, such as questions about the regulation of natural foods and dietary supplements.

"NPA will be reaching out to the newly-elected members of Congress and their staffs to begin educating them, but we need the industry's help," said Gay.

"We are also encouraging other companies in our industry to do this," Powers said. "We can all make a big difference by working at the local level."

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