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Can you afford to continue doing business without politics?

By Shane Starling , 06-May-2010

Ingredients suppliers and supplements manufacturers must be more proactive in promoting and communicating key issues facing the dietary supplements industry, stakeholders are saying after a recent fundraiser for a pro-supplements Congressman confirmed alarming apathy levels.

One industry observer said there were many players content to reap the benefits of the lobbying and advocacy work performed by industry trade groups like the Natural Products Association, Council for Responsible Nutrition, American Herbal Products Association and individual companies.

“There are a lot of freeloaders out there who don’t seem to understand the kind of work that goes on making sure that industry is represented to the Congress,” he said.

The fundraiser in question was held last week for Democratic Congressman, Frank Pallone Jr at the SupplySideEast trade show in New Jersey. Less than half of the exhibitors at the show were trade group members.

Investing in business

As industry veteran and consultant Suzanne Shelton noted, “there were more manufacturers of words there than there were manufacturers of dietary supplements products or ingredients.”

“When you consider that there are a handful of people in Congress who understand and support this industry and many more who are opposed to it, it strikes me as astonishing that rates of participation on an advocacy level are so low. I mean why would companies not invest in protecting their business?”

The NPA’s vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, Daniel Fabricant, PhD, noted that his organization had moved its headquarters to Washington DC several years ago to more effectively lobby on industry’s behalf.

“You have to be at the table to be in the game in the manner in which others are,” Fabricant said. “At events like fundraisers it is important to show up because it is a great way to meet political representatives and let them know who you are and have them understand your issues.”

“I often hear people say that they will just focus on the business side of things and not worry with the politics, but the question is: can you really afford to do business without politics.”

Duty of care

New York-based food and drug attorney, Marc Ullman, who sponsored the fundraiser along with AHPA president Michael McGuffin and Jon Benninger from SSE organizer, Virgo Publishing, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I find it incredibly discouraging when I see the disinterested reaction to these types of events,” he said.

“There is a constant hue and cry from a large number of people about the FDA or the FTC or Henry Waxman wanting to damage the industry, but when it comes time to step up I always see the same eight or 10 people at these events – the vast majority of whom are lawyers, consultants, PR people or publishers. Inevitably I find my self wondering why I seem to care about actually doing something more than my clients care.”

“Historically the supplement industry has had a great deal of difficulty raising funds to conduct business on Capitol Hill and at the state level. The last few elections cycles the industry's expenses on congressional campaigns and lobbying has ranked right about the level of the bowling alley and cruise industries.”

Industry champions

Shelton highlighted the rising number of challenges to the dietary supplements industry from the likes of Democrat Congressman Waxman or Republican Senator John McCain’s recent aborted attempt to modify the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, “to more effectively regulate dietary supplements”.

“That was an example of how effective industry lobbying can be to have that Bill withdrawn so quickly,” she said of the Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 [s.3002] that has been withdrawn largely due to the work of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and industry lobbying.

“If we were to lose people like Orrin Hatch and Frank Pallone we are in bad shape. They are staunch supporters of industry and we need to keep industry champions in office. The fact is there are too many in this industry displaying all the characteristics of a parasite so more needs to be done to reach out to these people.”