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There is Hope: Dietary Supplement Activity in Congress in the Trump Era

Article

by Mike Greene -

Many are discussing how the Donald Trump administration is repealing and replacing Obamacare, tax reform, immigration and other topics reserved for cable news pundits. But important actions, milestones and activity in dietary supplements have happened that will never make the headlines. Nevertheless, these dietary supplement-related activities are important to us, and, while not directly related to the new administration, it showcases this year has been an active one for the industry.

We saw traction on the policy and education fronts. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) began the discussion to include a multivitamin-mineral in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and in the upcoming Farm Bill. We saw the introduction of the bipartisan SNAP Vitamin and Mineral Improvement Act and the reintroduction of the Health Savings Act that would allow dietary supplements to be purchased with tax-free medical savings accounts like health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible saving accounts (FSAs), giving consumers greater choices to improve their health and wellness. As in prior Congresses, the supplement industry quickly reached out to freshman members and staff within the first 60 days of the session, providing regulatory education and information about dietary supplements and nutrition. CRN, in partnership with the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), brought more than 100 executives to Capitol Hill to discuss dietary supplements and encourage support of self-regulatory efforts. We had more attendees and more members of Congress addressing our group, and more congressional meetings, than ever before.

We saw the appointment and subsequent confirmation of a new FDA Commissioner: Scott Gottlieb, M.D. By all accounts, Gottlieb was a good choice and strong leader for the agency. During his confirmation hearing, he underscored the strength and success of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), and his intention to give FDA ample tools it needs to do its job. But regardless of who is at the helm, FDA needs adequate funding devoted to dietary supplements. So, despite a delayed presidential budget and concerns over cuts across the board to all agencies and departments, CRN, in partnership with PEW Charitable Trusts, laid the foundation for ensuring an adequate funding increase for the new Office of Dietary Supplement Programs (ODSP) at FDA. It’s important to remember that when the office was elevated from a division in 2015, it did not receive additional funding, which made it an office in name only and did nothing to help with enforcement of FDA regulations or the perception that there was a vacuum of leadership at FDA. CRN and PEW met with more than 50 appropriators in the Senate and House of Representatives to make the case for doubling the new ODSP’s funding over the next three years. Good news—many Senate and House offices on both sides of the aisle were receptive and helpful in this effort.

The Dietary Supplement Caucus (DSC) lost eight members due to resignations, elections losses and appointments to the Trump Cabinet at the beginning of 2017. For example, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) was appointed to director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) was appointed to be director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In addition, good friend and strong industry ally Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced he was resigning his seat in Congress, which allowed for Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) to become its new co-chair. However, to make up for some of the departures, seven new members of Congress joined the DSC: Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) and Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA). With a growing membership, the DSC remains the best platform for dietary supplement trade associations to share information with members of Congress and their staff.

Lastly, and most importantly, we saw the unveiling of industry’s self-regulatory effort to create a dietary supplement label product registry—the Supplement OWL (Online Wellness Library). This is a program supported by five dietary supplement trade associations, and has been showcased and demonstrated to Congress, state regulators and other interested entities. It continues to grow, is seen as a positive step by all who view it, and has much promise.

If the current administration hadn’t come to power, would the Supplement OWL have been as popular as it is now? It is a strong example of doing what’s right for supplement consumers and industry, even when the current administration is focused elsewhere. 

Mike Greene is the senior vice president, government relations of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry.

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