Dietary supplement industry promotes self-regulation, need for increased access on Capitol Hill

CRN, AHPA promote self-regulation, increased supplement access

More than 75 members of the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the American Herbal Products Association will “fly-in” to Capitol Hill today to meet with members of Congress and their staff to promote the dietary supplement industry’s self-regulatory efforts and push for legislation to expand access to their products.

Major themes of the day will include how the supplement industry has stepped up its self-oversight at a time when the Trump Administration has backed away from regulations, according to Mike Greene, CRN’s senior VP of government relations.

“Earlier this year the we were very focused on the fact that this may not be a Congress or an Administration that is going to be focused on regulation, and therefore, it was important for industry to showcase its voluntary self-regulatory efforts,” including the dietary supplement product registry known as the Supplement OWL (Online Wellness Library) that allows viewers to search and examine product labels, said Greene.

Industry representatives also will promote the Good Agricultural Collection Practices for herbs and botanical ingredient suppliers, said Greene. He explained that the free template developed by AHPA helps industry players establish standard operating procedures up and down the supply chain.

“This is really about doing what is best for botanicals and herbs and ensuring that we know what types of herbs are out there and the herbs are being replenished in the environment, but also as they work through the supply chain that there is really good handling practices as they work their way to the manufacturing facility,” Greene said.

Industry pushes for increased access

At the same time industry is promoting its self-regulatory efforts, it will push for legislation that will make it easier for consumers to access its products.

“On the legislative side, we are going to be encouraging support for the Health Savings Act” of 2017 (HR 1175/S403), which would allow consumers to use their flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts to buy dietary supplements either tax free or with a tax deductible, Greene said.

This act has been introduced in its current state three times in the past six years and has lingered in similar forms for as far back as 12 years. Despite previous failings to pass into law, Greene says the legislation has a chance this time and could gain more momentum depending on the outcome of the larger healthcare bill designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“In the healthcare bill that is being debated there is language that actually reverses the Obama Care in regards to FSAs accepting over-the-counter drugs, and so with that, if HSAs can go back to allowing consumers to use their medical savings accounts to purchase their Advil and cough medicine, that makes it easier to make the case for allowing dietary supplements,” Greene explained.

Industry representatives also will ask members of Congress to support the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits – formerly known as food stamps – to buy multivitamins, Greene said.

“We believe that low income individuals should have access to multivitamins for the same benefits that all individuals have when they use them,” Greene said adding that many low-income Americans on SNAP struggle to buy sufficiently nutritious food and the multivitamin could help fill shortfalls.

So far no bills have been introduced on the matter, but Greene says industry is hoping to include the change in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Finally, industry members will promote legislation introduced in the House that would focus on botanical conservation, Greene said. The Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration and Promotion Act (HR 1054) would ensure that the botanicals and herbs used in the United States are replaced and would help fund botanical work in individual departments, such as the Department of Interior, he added.

Bolstering budget allocations, caucus membership are key points

The federal budget will be another top line talking point for industry members visiting Congress, Greene said. In particular, they will focus on how it relates to the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs.

“Back in December of 2015, the division of dietary supplement programs was elevated to an office … but it was elevated to an office in name only,” Greene said, explaining, “It was widely supported by all of the dietary supplement industry, by members of Congress, in addition to consumer groups and public interest groups, but it never received the appropriate funding that it needs.”

Currently the office receives $4.6 million, but CRN and AHPA want to double that amount over the next three years, at the start of the next budget cycle, Greene said. To bolster its efforts, CRN is partnering with the PEW Charitable Trust and has met with over 50 of the appropriators so far, he added.

Finally, industry players will promote and recruit for the Dietary Supplement Caucus, which Greene says “remains the best way for industry to educate members of Congress and their staff about dietary supplements.”

He explained that several key players currently involved with the caucus soon will no longer be on the hill, “so we need to work hard on replenishing our membership and trying to find new leadership within the caucus.”

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