The natural products industry has had some great champions on Capitol Hill in the past, and many believe a newly elected senator from New Mexico could prove to be a friend in the future.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) offered members the chance to meet Senator Martin Heinrich (D, NM) at an evening reception held during Natural Product Expo West. The Senator spoke about several key issues and mingled with attendees. After the event, WholeFoods had a chance to speak with Heinrich about his time at Expo West.

The Senator says one area he spoke with people about was the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA). “My state has a substantial natural products industry. There’s a very large population of people of use dietary supplements and eat organic or local…it’s very relevant personally and politically.” Thus, Heinrich will have his eyes on any potential changes to DSHEA.

martin heinrich
Senator Martin Heinrich (D, NM)

He also noted that the people he met at Expo West were very interested in the current state of the agricultural industry. “We’ve spent many years in this country with a food and agricultural legislative framework that has really been about commodities and producing nutrition cheaply. Oftentimes, the nutrition part of that suffers,” he states. “On the cost side, what we save in terms of food, we end up spending even more in terms of healthcare.” People have expressed interest, Heinrich says, in having a Farm Bill that is even better for small farms that practice horticulture and organic farming as opposed to commodity agriculture. Another major concern was getting even more nutrition into the schools. “That was a conversation people were really engaged in,” the senator says of the AHPA reception.

Heinrich is also very in tune with the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) labeling. “We had our budget battle last week in the Senate and GMOs came up as a budget amendment issue. There was a vote on mandatory labeling for GM salmon that actually passed for the first time as part of that. It received bi-partisan support,” including from Heinrich, who co-sponsored the legislation. He states, “I just believe people should have access to information in order for them to make decisions about food and nutrition that is best for themselves and their families.”

The Senator also got to see the exhibitors in action. “I spent a little time on the show floor. You realize the scale of the economic impact when you see how big Expo West is,” he says.

Heinrich worked on land conservation issues for many years and says he and his family have always been believers in the healthy lifestyle, including having good nutrition, eating healthy foods, using natural products and even growing their own foods when they can. Heinrich’s wife also spent time on the board of a local food co-op for many years. “The natural products industry…has been part of our lifestyle,” he says, noting that one appealing factor is maintaining health as opposed to treating healthcare problems once they become acute. He believes the U.S. medical system should work in a similar way by supporting disease prevention.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2013 (online 3/29/13)