CRN, NPA discuss lobby days, possible dietary supplement legislationCRN, NPA discuss lobby days, possible dietary supplement legislation
Representatives of the Council for Responsible Nutrition and Natural Products Association discuss top dietary supplement issues conveyed to U.S. legislative offices during their fly-in lobby days.
July 12, 2023
After a four-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, two industry trade associations recently hosted fly-in lobbying days for their members, representing an opportunity for companies to meet on Capitol Hill with lawmakers and their staff about issues of importance to the dietary supplement trade. The Natural Products Association (NPA) and Council for Responsible Nutrition hosted their annual fly-in days on June 7 and June 21, respectively.
Below, representatives of NPA and CRN discuss lawmakers’ awareness and support of the dietary supplement industry, the top issues conveyed to legislative offices during lobby days and the importance of federal legislative activities in 2023 affecting the trade.
Natural Products Insider: How has the support of, and awareness of, the dietary supplement industry among federal lawmakers changed over time?
Kyle Turk, director of government affairs, Natural Products Association (NPA): Throughout NPA’s history, we have worked tirelessly to promote and protect our members, their businesses, and our role in the health of all Americans. Our organization has come a long way since its founding more than 80 years ago. Looking back at the nearly 30 years since DSHEA [Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act] was signed into law, the awareness and support for those who make the dietary supplement industry has grown exponentially. More often than not, when we meet with a member of Congress or a staffer, they recognize and take many of our products. Whether it’s a ready-to-drink beverage, protein powder, or a multivitamin, the awareness and support of our industry stem from firsthand experience in trusting our products to be a part of their health regimens.
Julia Gustafson, VP of government relations, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN): CRN has been around for 50 years, so we really have a sense for where the industry has been and where it is going because we have witnessed the changes over several decades. Lawmakers’ perceptions have undoubtedly changed over time too, in part because CRN has worked hard—through initiatives like these fly-ins, our management of the Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus, and regular meetings with their staff—to show them that supplements are a mainstream product category that millions of Americans consider vital to their health and wellbeing. Our growth and ubiquity with consumers, and the jobs and tax revenue our member companies bring to communities all over the country, have resulted in legislators taking us more seriously, as they should.
Natural Products Insider: What is the value for your organization’s members in meeting in person with U.S. lawmakers and their staff?
Turk: Advancing policy starts with establishing relationships. You won’t ask the neighbor you rarely speak with to borrow their lawnmower when yours breaks. The same premise is true in advocacy.
The industry is facing several critical issues, and coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s never been more critical to meet with all levels of government face-to-face. Many of our legislative successes— including the defeat of mandatory product listing (MPL), securing the industry as an essential business on the Department of Homeland Security’s Critical Infrastructure, and expanding access to supplements through HSAs (health spending accounts) and FSAs (flexible spending accounts)—come from the relationships our members have established by having in-person meetings with legislators and their staffs.
For example, during last year’s final days of the congressional session, many of our board members flew in for one last push against MPL by meeting in-person with several key legislators and their staffs to answer any last-minute questions that ultimately secured the industry a significant victory against regulating supplements similarly to drugs, which MPL would’ve accomplished.
By the numbers, more than 50% of all members of Congress served in government at the state, county, or municipal levels. Because of this, we encourage all our members to be active locally by attending town council meetings or hosting their state senator and representatives to visit their businesses.
Gustafson. Quite simply: human connection. I think when legislators meet our members, they realize that our industry is led by some of the most innovative, creative and well-intentioned people, who are passionate about their products and deeply protective of the safety and health of their customers. Our members are not trying to make a quick buck by capitalizing on some TikTok trend. These are ethical, responsible companies that consider themselves to be an integral component to the public health of the nation. Sometimes you don’t get the true sense of that integrity from a press release. But CRN’s Day on the Hill allows our members to look lawmakers in the eyes and say, “We care about our customers, your constituents, and we care about their communities. Supporting us is supporting them.”
Natural Products Insider: During the recent fly-in day, what were the top three issues that your organization and its members conveyed to legislative offices?
Turk: The top three issues we identified included strengthening FDA enforcement and accountability, expanding access to supplements through programs such as HSAs/FSAs along with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)/WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), and opportunities to strengthen the supply chain through strategic domestic and international partnerships.
Gustafson: Our membership is vast and varied, and so are their concerns, but, as a collective that day, we focused on three priorities: FSA/HSA legislation, the drug preclusion issue, and a legal pathway for CBD in dietary supplements—topics that will impact the totality of our membership in some way. I think the message around FSA/HSA coverage resonates when you explain to lawmakers it really is about giving consumers choice in how to invest in the health of their families. We tell them, “Nearly 75 percent of Americans are taking supplements, so why make it more difficult for them to stay healthy, when we have data that shows that using supplements reduces health care costs.” FDA’s unbalanced application of drug preclusion is really an existential threat to the industry, so we do try to convey that what FDA is doing in these areas not only runs counter to the original congressional intent behind DSHEA, but threatens to stifle innovation, kill jobs and leave consumers with less access to the supplements they rely on and trust to support their health, and the health of their communities. And, specifically regarding CBD, that we support H.R. 1629 because DSHEA absolutely can accommodate the regulation of CBD, based on its risk profile that is supported by safety data the FDA should use to establish guardrails now, not wait for years to build a new bureaucracy.
Natural Products Insider: What was the most exciting feedback that your organization’s members shared with you following the fly-in day?
Turk: For many participants, this was their first time at an NPA fly-in day. The feedback from congressional offices was incredible. Much of the feedback to our members from congressional offices is the expectation for FDA and the government to be more accountable to the industry and consumers. The last several years have caused many people to feel bothered by the lack of government accountability. Unfortunately, our industry is no stranger when considering FDA’s posturing on CBD, NAC, NMN, and sadly, this new shell game of lumping the FDA Office of Dietary Supplement Programs with the Office of Food Additive Safety.
But thankfully, there is substantial bipartisan support across Congress in supporting policies that would bring much-needed accountability to FDA. Many attendees concerned about FDA’s position regarding NMN received tremendous feedback from senators and members of the House who are exploring opportunities for their congressional offices to make a difference.
Gustafson: We heard from several of our members that they felt this year’s event was particularly productive. Sometimes “fly-in” days can turn into a series of grievance sessions for their participants, and members of Congress and their staff are skeptical of that. They don’t want to just hear a list of problems and demands. For years, they have looked toward CRN to broker solutions and offer fruitful ways forward on challenging issues. I think our members saw the power of this kind of diplomacy in action, and they left with a sense that the engagement moved things forward. They were well-briefed on our messages for Congress, and they met with the right people who can make things happen. We received very positive feedback about the quality of their meetings and the positive reception they got for being well prepared.
Natural Products Insider: Regarding the top three issues shared with legislative offices, what is the likelihood of bills being introduced this year to address those issues and the timing of such legislation?
Turk: For starters, we expect legislation to expand access to supplements through HSAs and FSAs to be introduced by Reps. Darin LaHood, Brendan Boyle and John Curtis very soon. All three have been tremendous supporters of our industry, and we can’t thank them enough for all they do. Strengthening our supply chain is more nuanced since a few different opportunities might already be available to the industry at the state and federal levels. But we are working closely with congressional leaders to bring the best possible solution to our industry's ongoing supply chain issues.
Gustafson: CRN is expecting bi-partisan FSA/HSA legislation to be introduced in the very near future with the bill text being similar to H.R. 5214, which was introduced during the 117th Congress. As mentioned previously, we also expressed support for H.R. 1629 that mandates a legal pathway for CBD without creating new bureaucracy at FDA. We are hopeful for a hearing and movement of this legislation in this Congress. While we would like to see DSHEA reform legislation, several legislators stated they were going to first send letters to FDA, giving the agency an opportunity to respond to their requests before introducing new legislation. We are supportive of that approach and will work with them on that correspondence.
Natural Products Insider: What are your final thoughts on fly-in day and the importance of federal legislative activities in 2023 affecting the industry?
Turk: Advocacy is just like diet and exercise related to fitness: It must be sustained to see results. Advocating for our industry and participating in fly-in day is a powerful experience and, in many ways, the most basic form of the democratic process. Our opponents are more empowered than ever, and they’re not only focusing on Washington. More and more, we see state legislators teaming up with special interest groups to use copycat approaches and false premises in attempts to blame nutritional supplements and natural products for all sorts of societal challenges. Lawmakers at every level of government will always feel the weight of an issue when a constituent can make a personal connection—and drawing upon those stories is quite effective. For our industry, this includes everything from job creation to all we do to keep the nation healthy day in and out. It takes vigilance and commitment, but together we can help shape policies that will strengthen the industry while continuing to provide Americans with safe and effective products.
Gustafson: How consequential a legislative year is on the industry depends, largely, on the nature of the advocacy. I think there is still the potential to make some real progress this year, if not with the passage of new legislation, then certainly at the committee level to raise the visibility of our issues and attract support. Our members are so united on many of the core issues we are shepherding through Congress, I truly believe such a strong coalition will enjoy the fruits of that unified strength.
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