On October 7, 1994, in the late evening hours, the Senate passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) by unanimous consent.

It took months and months of intense effort by retailers to rally a grassroots campaign among shoppers who feared their supplements would become unavailable. It also took incredible negotiating and commitment from several manufacturers to lobby on behalf of the bill (and financially support these efforts). It took a few influential and established lawmakers to throw their weight behind the idea of protecting health freedom. And, it took strong trade associations (and their attorneys) to do everything they could to rally the troops, meet opposition head on and pave a way for the passing of DSHEA.

I had the privilege of interviewing many of these Industry Trailblazers for this month’s cover story on DSHEA’s Anniversary. And, I am honored to publish the incredible insight of Rae Howard, cofounder of Good Earth Natural Foods in Utah, about DSHEA yesterday, today and tomorrow, who passed away shortly after writing this piece.

Working on these pieces left me with renewed respect and gratitude for what a relatively young and modest industry achieved. In the end, perhaps the most incredible part of DSHEA was that the day wasn’t won by just one white knight on his steed. Rather, it was an alliance of individuals from all walks of life who, as a united group, dared to believe the protection of dietary supplements was something worth fighting for.

The Next Leaders
Now, 20 years later, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy revisiting the story of how DSHEA was passed. What would happen if something as important as DSHEA were on the table today?

Would Americans—many of whom seem plagued by apathy regarding a whole host of issues—really take the time to contact their Congressmen?

Will any lawmakers take up our cause on Capitol Hill, especially with Senators Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkin announcing their retirement (and several antagonists still in office)?

Will industry companies be too wrapped up in their own profits to give their time and money for lobbying?

Will trade groups be organized, clear and powerful in their efforts to unite members?

The answers are far from clear, but it is certain that we are exposed in many, many ways. Perhaps, we’ve gotten a little too comfortable, especially with the safe umbrella that Senators Hatch and Harkin have given us in Washington. As Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Association, Salt Lake City, UT, put it, “This is like living in San Diego all the time. That’s not the weather everywhere.”

So, if you’ve felt frustration at negative media reports or proposals from uninformed lawmakers for restrictive laws for supplements, redirect your ire into action. Support your trade organizations with a contribution. Attend the Natural Products Association’s Lobby Day on April 8. Write a rebuttal letter to the newspaper publishing the negative press. Get your shoppers involved in caring about their right to health freedom. Help media and lawmakers understand that supplements benefit all of us, and they don’t need burdensome regulation. If we use our tools properly, “we could easily be one of the most powerful voices in Washington because so many Americans take supplements,” Jarrow L. Rogovin, president and founder of Jarrow Formulas, Inc., Los Angeles, CA, told me.

In the end, we can’t turn our backs on a key lesson from DSHEA: your voice is not too small to initiate change. As Gerald Kessler, founder and CEO, Nature’s Plus/Natural Organics, Inc., Melville, NY, so aptly stated, “We need to stand together as an industry and once again protect health freedom for the millions of Americans that use and benefit from supplements.”

The industry may well be in a very different place than it was in 1994, but one thing hasn’t changed. It is worth defending, even if we have to step outside our comfort zone to do it. WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2014