Civics and politics. The mere mention of the words can shut people down. We live in complicated times, requiring thoughtful consideration, respectful debate, and the active intention to improve the health of our planet and its people. Instead, our 24/7 election cycle often breeds a massive “word” war. People are motivated to run for office against an “incursion” of thought and proposed action. There is little, if any, opportunity for debate at the dinner table, much less in the election process. In the quest for a winner and a loser, it is the populace that pays the price for the rancor.
The stakes, however, are too high for any of us to retreat behind locked doors. Voting is the most important act anyone can take. And, as distasteful as it may feel, active engagement is truly the solution for finding solutions.
Consider what is at stake for the future of the health, wellness and dietary supplement industry.
Efforts to amend the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), and require mandatory product listing numbers (even on private label products on independent retail shelves) originated in the Senate. Senator Mitt Romney offered a legislative compromise, which failed to survive the Senate Committee on Health, Environment, Labor and Pensions (HELP) mark-up of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) Legislation. The House of Representatives has not followed the Senate lead, instead passing clean legislation for reauthorization of the pharmaceutical drug user-fee program. This single issue, not at a stand-off, has divided our industry, with trade associations battling against each other over differing positions. It is the Organic & Natural Health Organization’s position that the proposed changes do nothing to eliminate illegal, tainted products from showing up on the shelves. We assert the funds allocated for these new regulations would be much better spent on additional enforcement efforts.
DSHEA was passed in 1994. We’ve had almost 30 years as an industry to impress upon legislators and regulators the benefits of a healthy lifestyle that is built on clean air, food and water; the elimination of things like artificial colors and dyes, and the use of toxins in our agriculture system. Indeed, we have seen success with the elimination of glyphosate, the regulation of organic, and the current transformation into truly regenerative agriculture systems. Dietary supplements are the second most regulated of foods, baby formula being the first. Baby formula has not fared well recently. Yet, our critics cry that we are unregulated, dangerous, and seemingly more lethal than pharmaceuticals, despite the fact that prescription drugs result in 1.3 million emergency department visits and 350,000 hospitalizations every year, according to the CDC.
The government seems to be shying away from reporting deaths from pharmaceuticals, no doubt because of the opioid epidemic. In contrast, a 2020 abstract published in PubMed evaluated a total of just over 41,000 adverse events reported by two major companies during 2.5 years. Only 203 qualified as serious adverse events.
It is useful to evaluate the forces propagating the misinformation, though not a solution to the problem by any means. Yes, the pharmaceutical industry needs its PDUFA (The Prescription Drug User Fee Act) reauthorization as much as our government needs the funds derived by these user fees. And now, the cosmetic industry is mysteriously poised to enact its own regulatory mandate by hopping on the PDUFA bandwagon. Regulation of cosmetics, long overdue, has arisen without so much as a Congressional hearing (a tale for another day.) Senator Patty Murray loves to say that both the cosmetic and dietary supplement industries are unregulated. Uninformed or misinformed? It hardly matters on Capitol Hill, where everyone is invested in the win/lose proposition.
Our industry is not big enough to win the battle on Capitol Hill. It has never been big enough. We did not win DSHEA because of political donations and PACs. We won because the people who rely on the products and food created by quality companies, and sold by independent retailers, are voters. Now is the time to reinvigorate our voting block, and that includes you.
One company represents all your employees, and each of your customers. Each company is a taxpayer, as is almost every family member. Employers in the community are leaders, the original influencers (before social media was even on the scene). Whether you are a store, a manufacturer, distributor or a brand, you play all of these roles. Your civic engagement is the gateway to finding our next generation of leaders. The readers of WholeFoods Magazine have a rich history of being educators. Let’s turn the tables just a bit and do outreach and education to the elected officials (and their staffs) who are currently home in your District, running for office. You may not agree with all of their positions, but everyone deserves to learn more about their health and wellbeing. Let’s not forget, these candidates are people with staff, families, their own set of health challenges, and a long road to hoe before November.
At Organic & Natural Health we are taking the long view of the challenges facing our industry.
We are surveying every statewide primary winner running for governor, attorney general and senate. It’s a process to build awareness and introduce our work. Our goal is to share that with our partners who have access to the consumers we support, and the candidates they need.
Take the time to educate yourself on our industry issues, and explore how best to engage the candidates in your hometowns through your local connections, clubs and neighborhoods. Stay up to date! Our friends at SENPA have created their own grassroots operation at SOSSupplements.org. I suspect none of us are satisfied with the quality of our political discourse. However, it’s not going to get better until we create the change, one person at a time. I hope you can perform your civic duty. Mother Earth is counting on us.