The bill, S2231, is opposed by a consortium of groups that represent a wide range of healthcare professionals and nutrition coaches.
Thousands of professionals at risk
Darrell Rogers, director of advocacy at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, has been spearheading efforts to defeat the bill. Rogers said if passed, the bill would make it a crime to provide nutrition services (like diet advice or nutritional recommendations) for anyone who isn’t licensed by the state to either practice medicine or dietetics. Tens of thousands of non-licensed wellness practitioners such as gym instructors, yoga instructors, health coaches, nutritionists, nutrition coaches, fitness coaches, lifestyle coaches, health foods store owners/workers who communicate nutrition speech beyond basic information would be at risk.
“The proponents of the bill point out that there are retail exemptions, so health food store employees can still talk to their customers,” Rogers told NutraIngredients-USA. But in his group’s view those exemptions lack teeth, and don’t take into account the new ways in which the benefits of dietary supplements and healthy foods are being communicated to consumers.
“The look and feel and the services of a health food store have changed. The kind of practitioners offering nutrition advice has changed. The marketplace is evolving. It’s no longer about the employee who stands behind the counter,” Rogers said.
“More and more stores are offering health and wellness consultation,” he said. “In Natural Grocers stores, for example, they have nutrition coaches.”
Broad access to information supported
Alan Lewis, a communications executive at Natural Grocers, which sells organic produce and dairy, natural and grass fed meats alongside an extensive suite of dietary supplements, said his company has opposed the bill, along with others like it in other jurisdictions. Similar bills have been put forward in Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas. Lewis said they share similar language and strategy, and seek to create a licensing board for dietitians providing nutrition services, while defining nutrition services so broadly that no one else can qualify to practice. In an assessment made in 2016, 21 states put some kind of restrictions around the provision of nutrition advice and coaching.
"We strongly support broad consumer access to nutrition education. There are many qualified practitioners that the New York bill would make illegal. We need to bring in more education about these issues, not try to curtail learning about healthy practices,” Lewis said.
"Nutrition education is key to solving the nation's health crisis. States should be protecting and promoting more access to these services, not curtailing them. Natural Grocers has fought to provide nutrition education to the public for decades. Everyone needs to recognize the barrier that this bill would put between nutrition know-how and families who need it,” he said.
Speech severely curtailed
Rogers said the bill would severely restrict what someone who falls outside of the small licensure group could say to a consumer. In his group’s assessment of how the bill would curtail speech, you could say, for example, “Fish contains vitamin B12.” But you could not go further to say, “If you’re feeling tired, or lack energy, try eating foods or supplementing with vitamin B12.”
Rogers said the bill had been introduced previously in the New York State legislature, which runs on a two-year term. Bills which don’t pass go back to square one in committee. But this time there is a unified bill between the two houses on the table which improves the bill’s chances of passage.
“We are concerned. The entire community is concerned and that’s why we are urging people to contact their representatives in the state,” he said.