Washington, D.C.— Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa (D), a supporter of the industry, announced he will retire at the completion of his fifth term in January 2015. He told The Des Moines Register, “To walk away from this position of power is not an easy thing. But I think it’s the right thing. And I have two years left. I’m not passing the torch sitting down, it’s a running relay. I intend to be very active over the next two years.”

The 75-year-old politician enjoyed a storied career in Washington. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1974 before winning the Democratic nomination for the Senate 10 years later. Since then, Harkin has pioneered many reforms in the health care industry including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It was his support of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) that earned him respect within the natural products community.

Gretchen DuBeau, executive director of the Alliance for Natural Health USA, holds Harkin in high regard: “Senator Harkin was not only an early and enthusiastic supporter of DSHEA, he was one of its original authors, and we will greatly miss his heartfelt protection of it.”

That protection could be impacted by Harkin’s impending retirement. In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed guidelines for DSHEA’s New Dietary Ingredients Rule (NDI), which some feel would have extended FDA’s power over the industry unnecessarily. Its implementation was stalled in part due to Harkin’s and fellow senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)’s campaigning. Without Harkin’s outspoken support and the lack of a clear successor, similar victories to the aforementioned one might not be possible.

If that’s the case, DuBeau says it’s up to everyone involved to continue defending DSHEA: “The natural products industry, integrative health practitioners, and the millions of American natural health consumers who have benefited from DSHEA will need to step up our advocacy efforts in [Harkin’s] absence.”

Industry won’t be abandoned completely. Hatch will continue to fight for DSHEA until his retirement in 2019. After that, DuBeau says that every elected official in Washington should support the cause. “Access to natural health is an issue that crosses all political divides and benefits all constituencies. Elected representatives will only garner more supporters—enthusiastic and steadfast ones at that—by becoming champions of natural health,” she states.

In the next two years, it will be interesting to see who steps up to the plate and advocates for dietary supplements. As for Harkin, he’s more than ready to step aside: “After 40 years, I just feel it’s somebody else’s turn.”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2013