What the elections mean to our industry

The Natural Products Association (NPA) is often asked by members and others, "What effect will the upcoming elections have on the natural-products industry?" More to the point, "What will happen to regulation of dietary supplements under a new administration — whether Democratic or Republican?"

Unfortunately, there is not a simple or definitive answer based on a victory by either Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama. But let me first preface my remarks by saying that the NPA does not — and cannot — endorse either candidate. A constellation of factors and issues affects an individual's vote, and the potential impact on his or her livelihood is typically among them. What I'm attempting here is to shed some light on past legislative behaviors that might — and the key word here is 'might' — impact future public-policy issues. So let's take a look.

While both candidates have been in the US Senate and voted on a variety of legislation, there really hasn't been an up or down vote on a bill that was as pivotal to the industry as the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994. And while the DSHEA passed in the senate, it was by 'unanimous consent' and did not require a roll-call vote. That means that no senator actually cast an individual vote, including McCain, who was in office at the time. That's why it's hard to speculate how either of the candidates might vote on a bill that will affect the industry's future.

Since the DSHEA passed, there have been bills introduced that would affect, both positively and negatively, the way dietary supplements are regulated. We've seen some of the same co-sponsors on bills we both supported and opposed. For instance, McCain was a co-sponsor of a bill that would have required pre-market approval for dietary supplements, something the industry has vehemently opposed. But McCain has also co-sponsored legislation supported by the industry, such as the anabolic steroid and adverse-event bills. And while McCain has been critical of the regulation of dietary supplements in regard to performance-enhancing products, he hasn't made the kind of sweeping statements regarding increasing regulation that legislators such as Sen. Richard Durbin or Rep. Henry Waxman have.

Speaking of Durbin, as the senior senator from Illinois and the current No 2 in senate leadership, he is likely to have his opinions heard in a Democratic administration. A critical appointment will be the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who will oversee the Food and Drug Administration, and thus regulation of dietary supplements.

Regarding the senate as a whole, if the predictions are correct, there could be a super-majority of Democrats that would make legislation introduced there essentially filibuster-proof. What that means is that on the one hand, bills we oppose might be harder to stop by our champions. On the other hand, those we support may have a better chance of passing. Since, in the senate, amendments can be introduced at any time on the floor — unlike in the House of Representatives — we've got to remain even more vigilant in monitoring what is happening there.

Conventional wisdom says that Republicans favour less regulation. However, we need to remember that the DSHEA was passed with a Democratic administration. And, the industry has enjoyed fairly broad bipartisan support.

But whatever happens regarding a new administration and changes in Congress, there is much that we as an industry can do to help ensure that dietary supplements continue to enjoy regulation that balances consumer protection with market access.

This includes taking advantage of opportunities offered by the NPA, such as our annual lobbying event, and other groups, to communicate with your legislators the positive impact dietary supplements have for all Americans. Whether through an e-mail message or an in-person meeting in your district, or on Capitol Hill, as a constituent you have tremendous power to influence the outcome of public-policy decisions. We'll continue to do our part to make advocacy easy and effective, but your participation is vital.

David R Seckman is executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association. For more information about the Natural Products Association's advocacy programmes, go to www.naturalproductsassoc.org.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Functional Ingredients or the editor. If you would like to respond or to contribute an opinion piece, please contact [email protected]

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