Retailers: On the Front Lines of Health FreedomRetailers: On the Front Lines of Health Freedom
December 15, 2011
Retailers are on the front lines of the battle that many leading advocates, trade associations, andconsumer groups are currently waging against the ill-begotten NDI Draft Guidance and other threats, but are these stores equipped as well as they need to be?
I am pleased to note that, as to the NDI Draft Guidance battle, some manufacturers are providing information (ammunition), and advocacy tools (such as shelf-talkers and flyers for customers) to stores. However, retailers are not always armed with all of the “take action” information they need for their customers despite the fact that they are the gatekeepers of dietary supplement sales.
That's a mistake. In the two-biggest pre-NDI Draft Guidance campaigns in which the industry fought (in the 1960s and 1990s), retailers played an all-important role in those successful victories.
Item: On June 18th, 1966, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was going to ban nutrient potencies above 100% of the RDAs by classifying the over-100% products as drugs. The FDA also announced labeling restrictions that would have forbidden the inclusion of any useful information on dietary supplements.
The proposed regulations were called “The Vitamin Volstead Act” by the health-food industry in a nod to the Prohibition –related legislation.
A massive battle began that August, including a retailer-driven postcard campaign and a full-page ad in The Washington Post. American consumers and health-food stores, led by Congressman David King of Utah and the National Dietary Foods Association (NDFA) (a “parent” of today’s NPA), ultimately beat it with the Proxmire Vitamin Bill.
Item: In the early 1990s, when the FDA was at it again, retailer Joe Bassett and the northwest region of the Natural Products Association (or NPA, then NNFA) expanded an early incarnation of Citizens for Health (CFH) in order to mobilize consumers and health-food stores against these threats. Along with Bassett were Jim Golick, Margaret Isely, Bonnie Minsky, Dr. Joan Priestley, Alex Schauss, Craig Winters, and others. The American Botanical Council and the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) were also important forces from the industry side.
Another dramatic, and effective tactic retailers used to educate consumers about the threats posed by the FDA’s efforts was the blackout day that was held. Bill Crawford, director of retail publishing programs at New Hope Natural Media, was working at a health-food store before DHSEA was passed.
“I vividly recall our putting on a ‘black out’ day,” Crawford told me in a 2009 interview. “We got black mesh fabric and covered every product that would not be available for sale if DSHEA did not pass. It was nearly our entire supplement section! Products were available for sale but our staff was telling people why we had this restrictive covering […] and signage […] as well. Tables and chairs were set up for any customers who wanted to write a letter to Congress telling them how important access to dietary supplements was to them.”
As long as manufacturers --- and the industry at large --- continue to get the word out to their direct customers and to the health-food stores which carry their products, as long as advocacy groups continue to provide timely, well-informed action tools (petitions, letters to Congress, etc.), and as long as retailers continue to serve with such dedication on the front lines of health, American consumers will always prevail.
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