The Council for Responsible Nutrition met its goal of meeting with all 60 of the incoming lawmakers in the first 60 days of the session. Mike Greene, CRN’s senior vice president of government relations, said he has seen a welcome change this year during these educational sessions with the members of Congress and their staffs.
Dietary supplements better understood
“The one big thing we learned is that more freshman legislators than ever take dietary supplements and their staffs take dietary supplements. They believe in the products they use,” Greene told NutraIngredients-USA.
Greene said that welcome baseline of knowledge means that some work is already done. Fewer conversations start from the premise that certain attitudes on the part of the legislator or his or her staff need to be turned around before a foundation of trust can start to be built.
“They understand from the outset that we are regulated as a category of food, and that we are regulated,” Greene said. “The focus in the past has been trying to explain that we are in fact regulated.”
Greene said this shift in baseline attitudes could be attributed to the the overall increase in the market. As more information is shared about dietary supplements, and more Americans use them, the information about them seems to get stickier and stickier. Greene was unwilling to speculate whether some critical mass has been achieved or some tipping point passed, but did say the difference with his experience of this same exercise in years past is remarkable.
“It has a lot to do with the growth of industry. I wish we could take credit for that with our education efforts, but it seems that these people are hearing this industry from all of the different sources of information that they poll,” he said.
“Six or eight years ago there were some hostile officials who didn’t like us and didn’t understand the industry was regulated. This difference is anecdotal, but it’s interesting,” Greene said.
Understanding is one thing, policy goals are another
Having a mutual understanding about the basic parameters of the industry is one thing. Greene cautioned against becoming overly optimistic about the chances for big wins in the 115th Congress as a result of this welcome beginning.
“We have a lot more work to do on the core issues. A personal view of dietary supplements is different from policy goals. Just because they like dietary supplements doesn’t necessarily mean they will agree with our policy goals,” he said.
Among those long term policy goals would be to make dietary supplements eligible to be paid for with money put away by consumers in tax exempt health savings accounts and similar plans. Another objective would be to allow low income consumers to pay for things like a multivitamin product for their families with their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Greene guardedly optimistic about the prospects of a friendlier FDA, based on written comments submitted earlier this week by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the nominee as commissioner of the agency, as part of his confirmation hearings. Greene did say that having a robust and functional Supplement OWL label database will go a long way toward making the case that the industry is really starting to step up to the plate on the self regulation front.
“Right now we are hopeful we will see a quick final vote on the commissioner. It was good to see him come out and say that he is a dietary supplement user,” Greene said.
“The Supplement OWL won’t help us with bad actors except in that they [most likely] won’t be present. But it will help to put the spotlight on the guys who are willing to be transparent and are willing to showcase all the work they are doing to make sure their products are up to spec,” he said.
Dietary Supplement Caucus
Restocking the ranks of the Dietary Supplement Caucus is something that must be done after every election, and while Greene said the attitude in the air this year might potentially make this easier, it’s not a given there, either.
“Some freshman legislators have a policy that they are not going to join any caucuses at the outset,” Greene said.
Greene said focusing on boosting the message about joining the caucus will be one of the core issues CRN members will talk about during the organization’s annual Day on the Hill event, which this year is scheduled for June 21. Among the issues surrounding the caucus this year will be recruiting a new co-chair from Republican side of the House of Representatives to team with Jared Polis, D-CO. The incumbent co-chair, Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, has announced he will not seek reelection in 2018.