Choosing this year’s Person of the Year was no easy task. Readers put several good names on our radar, but in the end, we went with the person whose name was on the tip of everyone’s tongue throughout 2015: New York Attorney General (NYAG) Eric Schneiderman.
We believe his efforts to investigate supplement safety in 2015 made the biggest impact on this industry by far. Our trade associations put countless hours into dealing with the crisis, the negative press surrounding the nine-month drama was intense, numerous industry businesses received subpoenas or cease-and-desist letters and many companies moved to evaluate their own product and ingredient testing practices. When I spoke with Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), for our cover story, he called Schneiderman’s Feb. 3 cease-and-desist letters to four New York retailers “the seminal event of the year.”
Our selection of Schneiderman may surprise some readers. Isn’t there someone better, someone more positive we could have written about? Absolutely, there are numerous individuals that support this industry’s growth and success that deserve recognition.
But in our view, the Person of the Year is not necessarily an award or honor. Similar to how Time Magazine describes its Person of the Year, we think the WholeFoods Magazine Person of the Year should be the man or woman who—for better or for worse—made the most substantial impact on this industry over the past year. Hands down, the title belongs to Schneiderman.
Some years, the best choice will be feel-good stories about those making positive strides to better this industry. Like last year, we selected Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, given the incredible impact of the non-GMO labeling movement in 2014. Her story was inspirational and deserving of attention.
This year, we feel that Schneiderman’s actions warranted analysis, but there was another important story to tell. There was an incredible and dedicated effort on the part of the industry’s main trade associations and other groups to explain why the NYAG’s test results were inaccurate and unreliable. I truly feel that their combined efforts deserve our immense gratitude.
Moreover, in speaking with them, the crisis brought on by the NYAG also highlights several important lessons for this industry to learn:
1. Unfortunately, there is a lot of negative press surrounding this industry, and getting out in front of the media with timely, factual information is critical.
2. The NYAG, and all state AGs, cannot be ignored. Their power and reach—as evidenced by Schneiderman—is great. It is key to forge strong relationships with them and support those that are friends to this industry. Members of Congress and regulators are far from the only ones attempting to “rein in” the supplements industry.
3. Our trade associations (like UNPA, the Natural Products Association, the American Herbal Products Association and the Council for Responsible Nutrition) and groups like the American Botanicals Council are absolutely amazing. Many work with small-sized staffs, but are incredibly effective at presenting the science, talking to the media and working with regulators and politicians. Without their efforts, I truly believe the negative impact of Schneiderman’s actions would have escalated more drastically and even more industry businesses (and perhaps even supplements sales) would have been in the crosshairs. Clearly, there’s no better time to support these groups so that they can continue their important and much-needed work. WF
Publishing in WholeFoods Magazine January 2016