On Tuesday May 13, 2013 at 1:00pm EST, the Natural Products Association (NPA) board and an appointed committee held a webinar to discuss current business challenges facing the natural products industry.
There were valid points identified, however there was great disappointment with their proposed "solution." The main concern focused on the fact that many channels outside of the health food industry (mass market and e-stores) are selling "natural" products and supplements, but because they do not meet the traditional criteria for NPA membership, they are not contributing dollars towards the cost of advocacy in Washington, D.C. This is certainly a very valid point and one that is worthy of quality, honest and open discussion. The proposed solution however lacks creative thinking and a responsible business plan for the best of all members involved and the future of the health food industry as we know it today.
The only solution NPA is proposing is that we should all agree to make some bylaw changes that would allow more dollars to come into our industry. The most concerning bylaw change is to allow mass market companies to become voting members in our association even though NPA will not disclose specific names of companies we’re allowing in. The board claims there are legal reasons why names may not be discussed, but they want us to vote "yes" anyway. The current criteria for membership eligibility defines that 75% of a store’s gross sales must be "natural products," supplements and related items; also there must be a "brick and mortar" business. It’s fair to say that all other channels profiting because of our industry should share in paying the cost of advocacy…very valid point.
There is also a proposed "code of ethics" change to remove the words upholding the promise that our members (including companies) “protect the environment, safeguard our natural resources and improve the quality of life.” The removal of this code of ethic leaves us to assume that the companies we are being asked to allow in our association are knowingly harming the environment.
Bylaw changes must be voted on by the current membership. The NPA board is aggressively pushing for a vote by mail with the results being announced at Baltimore Expo East. There have now been two webinars held; another on June 18th and both shared the same information with the same agenda. Even though valid questions are being asked by current members, there have been no responsible answers given by the board or willingness to openly discuss obvious challenges of this proposal.
Here are some of the concerns being asked:
1. How will the increased revenue from new members be allocated? There is no business plan and because of that we have no idea how the dollars will be spent. Advocacy work is the only point that has been discussed but ‘media’ has been suggested. What kind of media and will it benefit all aspects of our industry equally?
3. What is the expectation for new companies becoming members that don’t share our founding principles? Standards of quality, caring knowledge of our products and commitment to principles all have been important aspects of our industry. This proposal has no accountability for new members.
3. There is an obvious potential for new companies paying higher dues to demand more decision-making power in our industry over time. How will this be addressed? The only safety net NPA offers is the current bylaw that allows ‘one member, one vote.’ As we speak, we are all being aggressively ‘pushed’ into approving these bylaw changes even though many individuals have privately admitted they have concerns for the outcome. It is safe to presume that if mass market companies with deep pockets ever threatened to leave our association taking their money with them, the pressure from the board would be even greater to cave in to their demands; the ‘one member, one vote’ protection would certainly be thrown to the wind and everything we have worked for would be lost.
The proposed bylaw change allowing any company into our association simply for financial gain, ignoring their business practices and what they stand for is simply short sighted and irresponsible. It is shameful to all those dedicated pioneers that have come before us, ignoring their hard work, commitment to freedom and the values we have stood for. As someone on the board admitted to me in a confidential conversation, we have let Big Pharma in through the back door; this will allow them to come through the front door. There are individuals in our industry that claim their devotion but their unwillingness to protect 80 years of hard work speaks otherwise.
I encourage everyone to vote ‘no’ on this short-sighted proposal. Let’s take some time and as a creative, caring group of individuals and companies outline a proposal that will prove to be in the best interest for everyone without forfeiting our integrity, success and freedom. The industry that we have nurtured and grown deserves it.
Claudia K. David-Roscoe
Health Foods by Claudia
Published in WholFoods Magazine, August 2013 (online 7/15/13)