Heinrich is a first term Senator, and was elected in November after serving two terms in the House of Representatives. Heinrich is a member of the Dietary Supplement Caucus, and attended the recent Expo West trade show in Anaheim, CA where the American Herbal Products Association held a reception in his honor. Heinrich spoke by phone with this reporter on Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
Q: What in your view are the main issues facing the dietary supplements industry in the US today?
A: I think (one issue is) making sure that we continue to have a regulatory structure that works effectively. I think DSHEA has shown itself to be a very good and effective regulatory structure over the years. And I think following the NDI issue and making sure that that is well crafted will be important for industry for well.
Q: What’s your view on how the NDI issue should be resolved?
A: (FDA) received a lot of feedback from both industry and members of the Senate. I want to see what they come back with and we will be watching very closely to make sure that it meets the right balance of adequate oversight for safety’s sake, which is absolutely important, but also not overburdening an industry which is really on balance a great thing for health in this country.
Q: Why did you join the Dietary Supplements Caucus?
A: One of the reasons I’ve done that is we need to put a focus on people living healthy lifestyles and not on a health care system where all we do is focus on how to fix things once they are clearly broken. And dietary supplements, and a focus on healthy foods and healthy lifestyles and exercise, are all ways to focus on general health as opposed to acute health care after we have issues. I think that is a corner we have to turn in this country so that people can lead healthier lives.
Q: Are dietary supplements appropriately regulated, or do changes need to be made?
A: I think that the current system is working. When you look at a label on a dietary supplement, and you see all the different pieces and parts that are regulated and how, you realize that there is quite a lot of oversight in the industry. I think that the model that DSHEA created is working well.
Q: Is FDA funded adequately to fulfill all of its mandates?
A: I do think that FDA is underfunded generally. If we are going to call on the FDA to do the myriad of things that they are responsible for under current US law I think that we need to make sure that they are adequately funded to do that well.
Q: How important is the dietary supplement industry in New Mexico? Is it an important creator of jobs?
A: It’s absolutely a viable producer of jobs. It’s an area that’s growing very quickly and actually was growing quite rapidly during the economic downturn. At a time when we were really struggling economically it was a growth industry and that’s how it got my attention it terms if its role in New Mexico’s overall economy.
We have some really exciting manufacturers in New Mexico that are part of this growing industry. We have the full gamut from growers all the way to manufacturers. It’s a pretty exciting sector of New Mexico’s economy right now.
Q: Recently some legislators have been calling for more FDA oversight of the energy drink sector. What’s your view?
A: We’ll continue to watch the individual cases and I know Monster drinks recently decided to be regulated as a food as opposed to a dietary supplement. I’m not convinced there is a case for legislation yet. Where I think some of the energy drinks manufacturers may not have shown good judgment is in marketing highly caffeinated drinks to underage consumers but I’m not sure we have reached a point where we need to legislate a fix to that.