Supplement Perspectives

Work En Masse to Engender Change

Mark Becker on the power of a unified voice when confronting government agencies.

Working with government agencies such as the FDA to implement positive change can be challenging at best. Initially, there was the establishment of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994. While the law established the need for manufacturers to test their products to ensure their safety before marketing them to the public, many claim this has been rarely enforced by FDA, which has traditionally exercised the majority of its enforcement resources in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

However, with the implementation of current Good Manufacturing Processes (cGMPs) and FDA’s much-discussed proposed New Dietary Ingredient NDI legislation, suppliers are under more pressure than ever to adhere to new regulations set forth by various government agencies.

That said, unless you have very deep pockets, it is virtually impossible to be heard by these very powerful government agencies. According to various compliance people I have talked to, these agencies will create insurmountable challenges and red tape that will impede any progress toward any reasonable change.

Nevertheless, all is not lost. Other compliance professionals have also told me that people and companies who work together can have major impact.

What do I mean by “working together”?

Well, if there is an issue you are passionate about and genuinely believe will benefit the industry, you get on the phone to one of your competitors. And then you ask your competitor to do the same. And so on. Too often, competitive companies choose to foster adversarial relationships with their competition. Instead, your competitors can be true allies. Work together with your competitors for the betterment of your industry. Learn from each other. This will also often lead to growth in your business. 

For example, regarding Prop 65, there have been many meetings addressing appropriate testing methods. I have found that genuine progress is made when competing companies share the same viewpoints and express them jointly. I’ve attended many meetings with the FDA. I noticed that the FDA takes notice when a bunch of companies attend the meeting and jointly express the same viewpoint.

Believe it or not, this philosophy can have business advantages as well. One of my biggest pet peeves is when competitors bash each other. I see this happen at many networking functions, public presentations, and various industry gatherings. When I hear someone make a statement putting down a competitor it upsets me. Even if I know a company has a questionable reputation, I refuse to bash them. Instead, I will talk about the virtues of all the players and companies in our great industry and elaborate on the industry’s profound growth.  

If industry players unite, take the high road, and build an “industry brand,” key government bodies, as well as the consuming public, will be more inclined to listen because they view our industry as trusting and honest.

I know this may be idealistic thinking. Nevertheless, over the long term, building alliances with competitors will not only galvanize an industry when it is confronted by threats, it can also help your bottom line. As a supplier, are there some services you offer that others don’t, and vice versa? Have you ever referred someone to another supplier that did provide a particular product or service? Referring business to a competitor will often come back around down the road and have a positive impact on your company.  Working together with competitors can often be a win-win for all companies involved.

Interestingly, the most competitive companies can be allies. My thinking has often been criticized as naïve. However, building long-term alliances with competitors will unify companies and can be very powerful, All in all, when an industry works en masse, government agencies tend to listen.

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