In Memoriam: Bob Ullman


New York, NY – The natural products industry has lost a legend with the passing of renowned attorney Robert (Bob) Ullman on August 16, 2015. Ullman's wife of 60+ years, Joan, also passed away that day in the same accident. The couple is survived by their children Marc Ullman and Gail Ullman Corbett.

“Bob’s contributions to the natural products and dietary supplement industries cannot be overstated,” said Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association. “The benefits to consumers and much of the success that companies in these markets enjoy today can be attributed to his efforts. Bob’s legacy will always be seen in the access enjoyed today to a wide array of products that promote health and well-being and in the prosperity of these industries.”

Mr. Ullman was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1933, and immigrated to the United States with his family as a young boy. In a 2006 interview with WholeFoods Magazine*, he credited his hardworking parents with teaching him a good work ethic and a sense of responsibility.

Ullman went on to graduate from New York University (NYU)'s School of Commerce, B.S., magna cum laude, in 1955. He then graduated with honors in the top 10% of his class at NYU's School of Law in 1960, also serving on NYU's Law Review. Upon graduation, he was hired by Bass & Friend, which dealt with FDA/FTC litigation. This firm became Bass & Ullman in 1969, and 30 years later, it evolved into Ullman, Shapiro & Ullman, LLP with his son, Marc, and colleague Steve Shapiro.

Mr. Ullman is legendary in the natural products industry for defending it in the courtroom and even in Congressional hearings over the course of more than 45 years. For instance, he defended the industry in the landmark Vitamins A and D case, where FDA attempted to categorize high-dose vitamins as drugs.

One of his most memorable cases involved defending Metagenics in the mid-1990s against FTC, which felt that the company did not have enough evidence to claim that calcium builds strong bones. In an interview with Suzanne Shelton of The Shelton Group for, Ullman stated, "The case was pivotal in my view in that it demonstrated that if the government is wrong, you can prevail; you don't have to cave."

Another noteworthy case involved black currant oil (Traco and Oakmont Black Currant oil cases), when FDA claimed N-N Dimethylglycine was an unapproved food additive and, in another proceeding, tried to claim that an empty gelatin capsule was the food and the black currant oil was the additive. After taking a swig from a bottle of olive oil in the courtroom before a witness, Ullman stated, "He conceded that it was a food, and I nailed my point: a food is a food regardless of how it is packaged, whether in bottles or capsules, or whatever." Senator Orrin Hatch used this case as justification for his introduction of DSHEA.

"My father literally dedicated his life to defending this industry, and inspired us all by the passion he brought to defending his clients and the indsutry,” said son and partner Marc Ullman. 

Ullman also served as the official counsel of the National Nutritional Foods Association (now the Natural Products Association), which recognized his contributions in 2005 with the President's Award. Stated Dr. Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., NPA’s executive director and CEO. “He has always been a staunch defender of the rights of both retailers and manufacturers to present their views and sell their products…He truly transcended a lifetime of achievement in our industry and will be greatly missed.”

In addition to being remembered for his incredible impact on and passion for this industry, Mr. Ullman was wise, kind and joyful. Stated Heather Wainer, publisher of WholeFoods Magazine, "Bob was a great friend to everyone. He always had a smile on his face and was quick to crack a joke. But, he always had the right answers to questions as well. He was a good friend and mentor to my father, me and the entire natural products industry. Bob will be sorely missed."

Services for the Ullmans will be held on August 19 in Woodbury, NY. Contributions in their honor may be made to the Alzheimer’s Assciation at

* Profile of Bob Ullman, WholeFoods Magazine, October 2006, pages 23-29.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2015 (online 8/17/15)