A Changing Washington

June 22, 2010

Originally Published

Originally Published NO June 2010

If last month's early Congressional primaries indicate anything, it's one thing: no one is safe in Washington. Seven states held early congressional primaries in May, with five of those states saying good-bye to long-time incumbents, including Representatives Neil Abercrombie (D–HI; 10 terms) and Alan Mollohan (D–WV; 14 terms), and Senator Arlen Specter (D–PA; 5 terms).

As for June's pool of nationwide races, additional changes won't be shocking.

In the heat of what analysts are calling the electorate's "anti-Washington" fever, Specter's inability to secure a fourth consecutive Senate seat might be considered especially noticeable to the food and dietary supplement industries.

Specter currently serves as Democratic chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs. In September 2009, he chaired a hearing, Bodybuilding Products and Hidden Steroids: Enforcement Barriers, which put the issue of steroids and dietary supplements into greater discussion.

In place of Senator John McCain's failed Dietary Supplement Safety Act from earlier this year, rumor has it that Specter is drafting official language to amend the Food Safety Modernization Act-legislation that may significantly alter the food and dietary supplements industries, including giving FDA mandatory-recall authority for adulterated food products. Analysts expect the Food Safety Modernization Act to receive action on the floors of Congress sometime this summer.

But for Specter and other ill-fated incumbents, the clock is ticking.

Pennsylvania's final major party nominations, Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey, join a pool of new candidates hoping to one day sit atop powerful committees and draft major legislation-some of which greatly affect the food and supplements industries. For the next several months, their ears will be open, and so should ours.

Industry trade associations are getting an early start on scoping out where the new candidates stand.

"Over the next several months, we will be vetting the backgrounds of both candidates to see whether or not they represent the interests of our industry," says Mike Greene, vice president of government relations at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC).

Dan Fabricant, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Natural Products Association (NPA; Washington, DC) agrees. "We're very interested in these candidates' positions, and when it's all said and done, we look forward to meeting with them and working with them to educate them on the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) and the industry, in general."

But agencies like CRN and NPA can't do it alone. With both houses of Congress staged to get lots of fresh faces in 2011, both agencies emphasize the need for all industry members to get involved. Ways to do so include attending local town hall meetings, attending fundraisers for candidates you support, and participating in industry fly-in days to Washington. These are all opportunities to meet current and would-be legislators face to face.

"Our members should convey the key arguments of our industry," says Fabricant. "Explain to them that the industry is regulated for DSHEA, and tightly regulated as such. Explain that DSHEA provides a great deal of benefit through not only the economy of the country, but, more importantly, through the health and well-being of the country. These are important messages to get to candidates."

What's the state of your local congressional races? You could have an impact.