We lost Orrin Hatch this year, and with his loss, and his 42-year Senate tenure, the vestige of a bygone era of bipartisanship. Granted, we have been suffering the effects of Congressional dysfunction for quite some time. The death of this Senator, our industry champion, however, lends a feeling of permanence to the rabid state of politics. I worry that memories are short, and without legislators who have the ideals, character, and desire to effectively legislate, the organic and natural products industry could suffer an ill fate. Without an institutional memory of Senators Harkin and Hatch, and their commitment to both our cause and an intrinsic understanding of what defines health, we risk any ability to rally around our cause for the sake of the people that we serve. Many will say that they are done with politics altogether. That’s it is too toxic, too broken, and that it is corrupt. Perhaps. However, one thing politics will never be is irrelevant.
The warnings are there when it comes to the future of the natural products industry:
- Too many members of Congress and their staff are poorly informed in their understanding of DSHEA, leaving the agencies who hold onto institutional memory with great vigor with enormous influence.
- The definition of health and healthcare remains managed, and manipulated, by conventional medicine. We must never forget that the Congressional Budget Office, who assigns the cost of every piece of legislation, has no way to ‘score’ savings in health care expenditures from true wellness initiatives like diet, supplementation, or acupuncture and chiropractic care.
- We ourselves are ill prepared to protect an organized assault on the industry. Our last true industry-wide grassroots campaign was in 1994 with DSHEA. The Organic Standard was passed in 1990 and it took another 10 years to create the National Organic Program. These Acts took time, money and an army of people to create the standards that rule our work, and it takes time, money and an army of people to ensure their future. We currently lack that army, and as a result we must rely heavily on legal talent to protect our interests.
The risks of continued inaction are significant. Consider this list of pending issues: CBD, NAC, the prospect of a mandatory product listing, the military’s interest in its own adverse event reporting system, and multiple state efforts to restrict access to dietary supplements. Add to the list a new threat to our industry, the “impossible” proteins in products and ingredients that are derived using “synthetic biology” and “precision fermentation.” We’ve witnessed the proliferation of these hidden synthetic ingredients in natural foods. We know they are being used in animal feed. It is only a matter of time until they contaminate the dietary supplement supply chain.
Our familiarity with the dysfunction of Congress and the FDA takes its biggest toll on independent retailers. Inaction, take CBD as an example, wreaks havoc on store operations and the ability to be competitive. Amazon’s free pass has also put the independent retailers at a severe market disadvantage. Fortunately, quality testing, first by Organic & Natural Health Association, followed by NOW Foods, has resulted in Amazon requiring a COA and proof of valid GMP certification, which leveled the playing field a bit. It is the independent retailer who stands as the gatekeeper of our industry. They ensure their staff is well-trained, provide quality education to their customers and are active in their communities. They are diligent when sourcing quality products. These store owners have suffered the consequences of the pandemic supply chain constraints and the subsequent price and availability issues. Their moxie and grit, combined with a passion for health and their customers, positions them as the perfect industry advocate block.
So what is the industry to do to ensure continued access in the face of political unrest, challenging media coverage and limited ability to call out the “bad actors”? I suggest we rally, as a united front, around our standard bearers, the independent stores. Let’s enable them to create the army we need to take our message to the halls of Congress. By working with SENPA and their partners, we can support their work and their customers, providing resources and our expertise. Trade associations, and representatives from the entirety of the supply chain need to unite on behalf of the consumers who trust us and the retailers they believe in. Here is a good place to start:
- It is time to rewrite the messages to reflect the totality of our efforts. Let’s get the data together. If we have learned anything from the pandemic it is that our work has changed health outcomes. Let’s codify the vitamin D3 story.
- We are more than supplements and food. We know that consumers want sustainable, regenerative products that support the livelihoods of farmers across the continents. We must embrace the ESG movement. Environment, Social and Corporate Governance standards, first developed at the United Nations have been embraced by the International Integrated Reporting Initiative (IIRI) and the US-based Sustainability Accounting Standard Board (SASB). Herein lies the potential to lead market transformation that will actually heal the planet.
- We must find new champions. We’ll have to leave our certitudes behind to find new supporters at all levels of government. Someday, we’ll have to run our own for office. I hope that is sooner rather than later.
We are not an inconsequential industry. As the numbers of people using dietary supplements and consuming organic goods continues to rise, so too do the number of supplement and organic consumers in Congress and the Federal Government. And, while we are not in the top 25 industries in the United States, we do have more than $254 billion in annual sales and we continue to grow (No. 25 on the list is the Electric Power Transmission industry with $411.4 billion in sales). Our industry is certainly large enough to garner the attention of Congress and the agencies, for better or for worse. Let’s be proactive. Let’s make our world bigger and better. Let’s show them what true health looks like.