Editorial: Musings From NNFA (NPA) 2006

By Len Monheit

Depending on your point of view, last week’s NNFA show (technically ‘NPA’, with the National Nutritional Foods Association’s formally announced name change to the Natural Products Association) was either a chance to touch base with industry colleagues, a satisfying networking opportunity with independent retailers, or yet another less than productive industry show leaving you wondering why you would ever decide to come to Las Vegas in 114 degree plus heat when you could be on a beach somewhere.

Fortunately, the latter perspective was in a minority. Those that attended and participated generally had a decent show (“not over the top but steady” were the words most often heard), and as is always the case, NNFA’s (NPA- I’ll get it right one of these days) celebration of award winners and contributors, and the discussion of industry issues (some very overt, others rather covert) was a strength of the event. Perhaps it is the lack of actual business to be conducted at this particular show, perhaps it is the fact that many of industry’s legends make this an annual trek, but for whatever reason, this summer event tends to be a spot where the industry’s performance, successes and shortcomings can be openly analyzed, and often are, with a frankness that is both disturbing and encouraging.

The very fact that show staff were engaged in full time policing of trade show booths for FTC violations is a sign of this dichotomy. While it’s encouraging to see such enforcement action, at the same time, it is disturbing that despite the requirement to submit labels and materials prior to the show, companies either do not understand the regulations, are pushing the envelope, do not have the budget to engage legal counsel or advice or just plain don’t care about our industry’s laws.

As I’ve mentioned, this 70th anniversary year, (69th actual show) saw NNFA formally announce a name change to the Natural Products Association (NPA). (http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=16113&zoneid=2) In addition, NNFA announced the opening of a branch China office in Beijing under the leadership of Jeff Crowther, to help US-based companies better approach the high potential Chinese market (http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=16114&zoneid=12 ). One further announcement made by NNFA was an addition to its TruLabel program by implementing a random testing program focused on sports supplements, testing selected products for traces of banned steroids or stimulants to counter claims by the sports community that these products are the cause of doping positives for elite athletes. (http://www.naturalproductsassoc.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7382). While in the last case, it is good to see the association being proactive, the approach the association has taken in their press release, rather than being collaborative with the sports community, is leaning to a more adversarial position. While all too often, supplements are the default claim for cause of a doping violation, we know the ‘general’ marketplace has products that are improperly labeled and that do contain substances that would cause a doping positive. Perhaps TruLabel participating companies are in fact exempt, and perhaps the qualifying language in the release should read that ….TruLabel “sports supplements contain exactly what is on the label, and are without traces of banned steroidal and stimulant ingredients.” One can only hope that if trace amounts of steroids or stimulants are found, that this information too is presented.

Going back to the event itself, one of the highlights was certainly the keynote presentation by Senator Hatch. Long industry’s champion on Capitol Hill, Senator Hatch delivered a rousing presentation to two standing ovations and presented a perspective on current legislation and industry’s relationships. He commended the leadership of David Seckman and the work lobbying on the Hill, both on an individual basis by NPA representatives including Ed Long, but also the effectiveness of Lobby Day. Hatch drew the connection between the AER legislation (S. 3546) currently under consideration and threats against DSHEA, which would almost certainly increase, should the AER bill be defeated or even not get adopted in the current session. Hatch pointed out that pre-market approval, currently not a requirement under DSHEA, sounds quite attractive to many legislators; the argument that our industry makes consumers into guinea pigs, while obviously not true, is good rhetoric.

In analyzing the AER legislation Senator Hatch commented on the positive of having a chance to work with Senator Durbin, who he found to be ‘fair, responsible and constructive’. Having passed committee (June 28th), the AER bill is expected to be voted on in the next week or so. He charged industry with working on gathering support in the House.

Senator Hatch spoke about other bills including the National Uniformity for Food Act, and current activity regarding health savings accounts and their use for the purchase of supplements, as well as the ongoing debate over DHEA. On GMP’s, while suggesting that there was a possibility of a final rule by the end of this year, Senator Hatch did use the comment “not in my lifetime.”

In closing Senator Hatch cautioned industry to ‘do it right’, referred to new relationships being formed and the need for still others to be created.

On the show floor, traffic was generally light, more so obviously the Sunday. Of note was a huge show floor presence on the part of network marketing company XanGo, significant in the fact that was really an ‘out of channel’ experience for them. The significant display and presence on the part of the company was attributed to category building, and XanGo representatives were extremely pleased at the retailer response and interest.

The ‘off the show floor’ dialogue was quite active. Industry and consumer associations gathered in an open and frank discussion about sharing information and perspectives to clarify positions and to see where groups’ interests align or collide. On the quality front, AOAC groups met to advance method development programs, and in other discussions, strategies were debated for blowing the whistle on or at least bringing to the forefront cases of deliberate ingredient adulteration and the consequences of this activity.

From our NPI perspective, I’m glad we were there at the show. While it wouldn’t have actually hurt us to miss the event, we found it worthwhile, primarily from a networking and relationship standpoint as well as for the chance to keep appraised of critical industry issues.

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