Though certain to be met with puzzled looks in some corners of the natural products community, the Natural Products Association’s decision to admit controversial pharmaceutical giant Mylan as a member is being defended by the association’s president and chairman of the board as the addition of a high-powered company that could further industry goals.
Mylan was the subject of widespread criticism in 2016 for raising the price of the EpiPen, a measured dose epinephrine shot for allergic reactions, by as much as 400 percent. Before Mylan acquired the the EpiPen in 2007, it reportedly cost $55 per pen, but last year the price for a two–pack went as high as $699. The company settled a related lawsuit with the Justice Department for $465 million for over-pricing the pen and is the subject of both a class-action suit and a suit by a rival company with an EpiPen alternative.
Asked about admitting Mylan as a member, NPA President and CEO Dan Fabricant said the EpiPen controversy was separate from the company’s consumer healthcare operations. Mylan owns dietary supplement brands that include Geritol and Cold-Eeze, Fabricant pointed out, saying that Mylan “put a real stake down in consumer healthcare.”
NPA board of directors Chairman Mark LeDoux of Natural Alternatives International said Mylan’s activity in the nutrition space made the company an easy candidate for membership. “I don’t think there was much consternation,” LeDoux said. “We don’t really have much sway over what they are doing in their drug products, but when it comes to nutrition, we have a lot to say,” LeDoux said, explaining that having Mylan “at the table” could benefit the industry.
Fabricant claimed that other trade associations were seeking to bring on Mylan, and that pharma company members in associations like the Council for Responsible Nutrition have also been charged with questionable practices. Bayer Healthcare is a CRN member, and Bayer is attempting to buy Monsanto, a company widely unpopular in the natural products industry. CRN declined to comment for this story.
A United Natural Products Alliance spokesman said that Mylan had not applied for membership. American Herbal Products Association President Michael McGuffin wrote in email that, “We don’t have any contacts with this company, and they are not currently in our prospects list.” Karen Howard, executive director of the Organic & Natural Health Association, said Mylan would not meet ONHA membership criteria.
Howard called herself "incredulous" that NPA would consider Mylan as a member. Large companies may have multiple divisions, but Mylan’s reputation doesn’t help natural products, Howard said. “I don’t know how that supports our industry efforts at building consumer trust,” she said, predicting that people in the natural products world would be “flabbergasted” by the inclusion of Mylan in a natural products trade association.
Robyn O’Brien is one of them. The activist founder of the Allergy Kids Foundation described Mylan as a “call to action for price gouging” and charged that without major changes, the company has no place in an association promoting natural products. By O’Brien’s estimate, NPA’s decision is a sign that the old trade association “catch-all” model is outdated in an age of transparency. Consumers now call for greater purity in the this-is-acceptable-behavior message that a trade association’s membership implies. “These 20th century trade associations don’t work in the 21st century,” O’Brien said, explaining that, "it speaks to the need for new associations."
American Botanical Council founder Mark Blumenthal said Mylan has not approached ABC, but he can see how the company might qualify for inclusion based on its supplement portfolio.
The Mylan situation represents a growing challenge for the supplements industry and natural products in general. In an age of consolidation, corporate conduct litmus tests will become harder to administer as larger companies with products or practices that could be seen as running counter to natural health mission enter the space. “This is becoming an increasingly difficult issue,” Blumenthal said.