Twenty years ago the industry faced a national challenge that mobilized the grass roots and led to the passage of the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA). But with that landmark piece of legislation long established, the industry may be facing a new enemy: Apathy.
While national and federal issues may attract the lion’s share of media attention, NPA’s regional associations are successfully defending industry interests in state capitals across the nation. NPA East, for example, has faced down numerous challenges in its region over the years, said Paul Kushner, Executive Director, NPA East, but such successes may not have received the acknowledgement they deserved.
“We don’t bang the drum enough, that’s fair,” Kushner told NutraIngredients-USA in a conference call, “but we spend our time protecting our membership and not much in PR. My focus is on making sure those bills don’t get through.” He said that getting the word out to the membership has never been in doubt, with regular updates sent in addition to a regular newsletter sent to about 2,000 people per quarter.
And not banging the drum means stakeholders may not understand the ongoing threats to the industry. “At times I think our biggest enemy is apathy,” said Adam Goodman from the NPA East Advocacy Committee. “DSHEA is in place and this breeds an apathetic view.”
Hot button issues…
NPA East focuses a lot of attention on New York State, because, as Kushner explained, “unlike Las Vegas, what happens in New York State does not stay there”, meaning that the rest of the country often follows the Empire State’s lead. Stopping potentially damaging legislation in Albany therefore has added significance.
NPA East was founded in 1970, and has a membership of between 150-175 independent retailers and suppliers in 12 states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Some legislation comes up in different forms every couple of years, he said, often proposed by the same two politicians. The association has met with key lawmakers in Albany on numerous occasions, and Kushner noted that the politicians proposing the laws have no distaste for the industry; they just have less faith sometimes in Congress. “When you talk to them, they are pretty good guys. They’re just not completely informed.”
There are two or three hot button issues which keep popping up in Albany, said Kushner. “The State wants to create its own FDA, and this has been going on for the eight years I’ve been involved in NPA East. They want to establish a consumer panel or a protection group, and they would decide which supplements are safe.”
“Another dietary supplement bill calls for a warning label on products to state that they have not been approved by the FDA.” This would be in addition to the standard statement on supplements that, “The statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
Such a law would result in separate labelling for products sold in New York State, said Kushner. “Costs for this would have to be passed onto retailers and suppliers and possibly consumers, and manufacturers may decide to exit New York State.”
The other hot button issue has been the call to limit nutrition advice to registered dietitians only (as proposed by Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) in several states ). “We managed to have that taken off the table in New York State,” said Kushner. Under such legislation a retailer without an RD on staff would not have been able to talk to consumers.
Another issue that NPA East is keeping a very close eye on is GMO labeling, with numerous states in its jurisdiction already introducing some kind of initiative. The GMO bill in New York State is probably going to go through , said Kushner, and the association is ambivalent to that. “The membership thinks that GMO labeling is good, but there will be an expense associated with additional labeling and those costs will have to be passed along.”
“I think we’re coming near to the tipping point for GMO labeling,” added Goodman. “It’s like gay marriage: If enough states are proposing it then the federal government has no choice.”
The regional associations are all reporting in the national headquarters in DC, said Dr Daniel Fabricant, NPA’s CEO. The associations will discuss issues at least once a month, he said, and to fight the apathy requires a beating the drum constantly to the industry.
The national association has been revitalized over recent months with the return of Dr Fabricant, and a couple of other high profile appointments.
“As an unpaid field person, I’d say that things have been strained over the last few years with ‘outsiders’ in the leadership,” said Goodman, referring to firstly John Gay and then John Shaw as the CEO of the organization.
“Now with Dan [Fabricant] back at the helm , and Devon [Powell as COO] in place we have long-term industry veterans and things will be very smooth moving forward, and nothing will fall through the cracks.”