If you aren't at the table, you are probably on the menu. This is what Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) told the gathering of Natural Products Association (NPA) members who had just finished up a day of visiting the offices of various Senators and Representatives. His words on the importance of advocacy such as this 17th annual Natural Products Day reminded these industry members their efforts to offer Congressional staff insights and education on their constituent businesses, as well as the overall natural products industry and the regulation and legislation it faces are vital to forging new political relationships. And replacing old ones.
Harkin is in his last year as a Senator, but he let the NPA crowd know he is not done as a champion of the industry. While he eyes retirement from the wild range of issues of a Senator's life, he intends to remained focused on a few key issues that are near and dear to him. Nutrition and natural products are one of them. This drew a rave response, as did Harkin's symbolic passing of the torch to Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), whom he called an ideal new champion from the Democratic side—he said it is important to have bipartisan support, like the industry has long enjoyed from Harkin and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
Asking Congressional members to join the Dietary Supplement Caucus, a bipartisan and bicameral resource group of Congressional members, was one of the "asks" in the meetings on this day. The caucus is co-chaired by Hatch and fellow industry champions Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ). It was founded in 2006 and serves as a forum for ideas and information on dietary supplements.
The other key issues on the discussion tables during these advocacy meetings included the Designer Anabolic Steroid Act (DASA), the Genetically Engineered (GE) Right-to-Know Act and the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act (DSLA).
NPA members asked congressional members to support both DASA, which would help the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) more quickly control new designer steroids that could be used to adulterate sports supplements, and the GE bill, which would provide important information to consumers and create a federal solution as opposed a patchwork of different state standards. The other key advantages of the GE bill reintroduced in 2013 are its avoidance of private enforcement provisions, which tend to benefit lawyers, and the requirement for FDA to routinely review the bioequivalence of GE ingredients.
The only specific request to oppose was on the DSLA, a reintroduction of a bill from Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that would impose several premarket requirements on dietary supplement manufacturers. With provisions to register products with FDA, including a description of each product, label and ingredient, the bill is redundant and unnecessary in the eyes of the natural products industry. The bill flies under the banner of improved safety, but NPA members reminded congressional staff that there are many safety-focused regulations on the books already, and new regulation that just creates more paperwork and uses more resources is not the best approach.
In fact, while many meetings during Natural Products Day seemed positive and educational for the congressional staffers, not all positions are given an open mind in all offices. In the office one influential Senator who is playing a key role in the genetically modified organism GMO) labeling bill, the agreement on GMO and right-to-know faded on the topic of DSLA and supplement safety. The staff member said the Senator would not be interested in opposing DSLA if industry backs the status quo on safety and quality. However, the NPA group was on its toes and explained the existing regulations and gained more favorable response to the notion that the solution lies in FDA enforcement and increased funding to do so.
Roxanne Green, president of NPA called this an incredibly strong year for NPA’s Natural Products Day. "With our expanding membership and growing [political action committee], we were able to go on Capitol Hill and the deliver the one-two punch to Congress," she said. "NPA members had extremely productive meetings with lawmakers and their staff, and, with our new leadership, we plan to build on that momentum to make 2014 a powerful year for the natural products industry."
The other big news of the day was the announcement during the morning preparations for Natural Products Day meetings that Dan Fabricant will be leaving his post as director of FDA's Division of Dietary Supplements on April 18 to become the new executive director and CEO of NPA. Read more on that story here.