The Passing of a Golden Era?

Written By:
Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
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Industry members will never forget the day they learned Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994. For most, it brought a huge sigh of relief. This piece of legislation, of course, defined “dietary supplement,” grandfathered in supplement ingredients sold before 1994 and allowed for certain structure–function claims, among other things.

When we talk about DSHEA, we recognize with gratitude the many industry men and women who played a role in its development and passage. We also thank key legislators who stood up for it on Capitol Hill. Let’s also not forget the many Congress members who voted for it—including John McCain, the senior senator from Arizona. Times have changed, however. Today, he is back-pedaling on this decision and has become an outspoken opponent to DSHEA. Could this signal the end of the golden era that DSHEA ushered in?

Attack on DSHEA
In a 2004 interview with ESPN, McCain said of DSHEA, “I’m not satisfied at all. The bill I voted for, frankly, I was not as aware of it as I should have been.” I wonder whether McCain is completely aware of all the potential repercussions of his proposed “Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010.” When considered as a group, the changes suggested in the legislation comprise an egregious attack on dietary supplements; the proposed regulations are much more burdensome than those faced by other similar industries. Even FDA would likely have difficulty finding the funding and manpower to hold all the hoops supplement makers would need to jump through to sell products (see the news story on page 10 for all the details).

Worse, the legislation seems to be an attempt at obliterating the whole to save a few straggling parts. Unfortunately, the parts in question have a high level of visibility—as well as the backing of multi-billion enterprises like the NFL. I am speaking, of course, of athletes. The act is billed as an attempt to rescue them from the deadly clutches of the supplement industry.

This stance is nothing new for the senator. In the aforementioned interview with ESPN, McCain was touted as someone working hard to “save” sports, which naturally included “cleaning up supplements.” Funny how the article placed revamping the sale of supplements akin to, oh, ending the exploitation of financially desperate boxers (e.g., forcing them to fight despite serious health concerns). Sure, that’s an apt comparison, right?

But there’s a problem with the whole scheme. Some athletes intentionally attempt to get ahead of the competition with illegal products and nearly all have access to information about what’s safe and what isn’t; just how many are truly unaware of what they put in their bodies? It is unjust for the many who benefit from supplements to suffer because of the careless actions of a few.

Weigh In

This act is problematic for numerous reasons. It would be even more disturbing if we were to let it advance without a major fight. In the words of the National Health Federation (NHF), we should kill this bill before it has a chance to breathe. The group suggests contacting your local representatives about opposing the bill (visit www.thenhf.com/press_releases/dietary2010_petition.htm to learn how). “Be polite, but be persistent and vocal,” NHF advises.

In this month’s Q&A with influential industry members (page 70), Jarrow Rogovin describes how his company has hired lobbyists to vocalize the injustices our industry could face if legislators had their way. Many of our industry associations have issued their own statements as well.

These efforts are a good start, but we all need to weigh in on this. If we join together, we might one day look back on this as the time when we grasped what we worked so hard to achieve and didn’t let go; not the time we sat by and meekly let it slip away. WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2010