Dietary supplement industry members will today testify before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in a hearing designed to size up the effectiveness of DSHEA.
Implemented in 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which regulates the industry, is under threat in a new bill being brought by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). The bill, S.722, is a result of growing concern about government's ability to protect consumers, much highlighted by a recent wake of ephedra lawsuits. But the supplement industry claims it would allow no more consumer protection than current law provides and would instead significantly damage the freedom of consumers to purchase supplements.
In reaction, an alternative bill from Hatch and Harkin (S.1538), the 'DSHEA Full Funding and Implementation Act of 2003', has been introduced, designed to eliminate the need for any new regulatory bills for the industry. It essentially allocates a significant amount of new funding to boost the powers of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implement DSHEA.
A lobbying event, backed by trade associations NNFA, American Herbal Products Association, Citizens for Health and the Utah Natural Products Alliance, attracted 130 industry members and consumers to Washington, D.C. last Tuesday to support the Harkin-Hatch legislation. The 'Rally on Capitol Hill' also saw congressional meetings scheduled at 110 House and 63 Senate offices for retailers, manufacturers, ingredient suppliers and other industry proponents.
In many meetings, attendees found the legislators had not decided on their position on the pending bills. Such ambiguity did not slow down the participants. Laurie Manny of Cone's Health Foods in Bakersfield, California, left Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) a petition from consumers who were against SB 722. Other industry members found a decidedly chilly reception. Suzanne Shelton, an industry consultant from Illinois, said the meeting in Durbin's office lasted an hour but involved two stony-faced aides.
However, several attendees reported positive results. For example, at Sen. John Kyl's (R-Ariz.) office, legislative correspondent Mike Thompson told gatherers the calls and emails opposing SB 722 have been having an effect. Debra Short of Debra's Naturally reported the staff at her meeting in Sen. Jim Inhofe's (R-Okla.) office was well versed on the issues at hand and alluded to the senator being against SB 722.
NNFA's David Seckman said the rally was effective on two levels. "We were able to unite a rather broad array of retailers, suppliers and consumers for a common cause: defeat of SB 722 and support of SB 1538. And, I believe our efforts definitely had an impact, particularly on those legislators who may not have been familiar with or decided where they stand on these bills," he said.
"As most of the participants found, the Rally provided a real opportunity to speak with our elected representatives, and they and their staff members were often receptive to our message. Now that we have initiated these relationships, however, it is up to each of us to maintain them by communicating with our Senators and Representative regularly and often," said AHPA president Michael McGuffin.
The Senate committee will today hear from NNFA executive director and CEO David Seckman, John M. Taylor associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at the FDA, Howard Beales, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection in the Federal Trade Commission, Terry Madden, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and Dr Arthur Grollman, professor of pharmacological sciences and medicine at the State University of New York.
It will also investigate the availability of dietary supplements to consumers of all ages and the marketing practices of the supplement industry. Further discussion will examine whether the significant level of domestic consumption of dietary supplements could be exposing consumers to unexpected short- and long-term health risks.
The hearing will be broadcast live over the Internet from 9.30 am (EST) today.