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At the recent Conference of Western Attorneys General, a panel on the nutritional supplement industry reportedly took on a more positive tone than similar panels conducted last year.
Article updated September 1, 2016, 4:36 p.m. PST
This time last year, the dietary supplements industry was still swimming in negative headlines about ongoing industry scrutiny from several state attorneys general (AGs), prompted in part by an investigation New York AG Eric T. Schneiderman launched into herbal supplement products. But flash forward to July of 2016 and the recent Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG), where there were signs that many AGs are taking a more positive tone in their approach to the industry.
Former Maryland AG Douglas Gansler, who is working with the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA; Silver Spring, MD) and the United Natural Products Association (UNPA; Salt Lake City) on an AG outreach campaign, recently shared his take on the latest CWAG meeting, which took place in Sun Valley, Idaho from July 17–20. The meeting included a nutritional supplement panel, the results of which Gansler said indicated “that perhaps negative attention from state AGs is diminishing.”
“Unlike previous supplement panels held during the National Association of Attorneys General meeting last year in St. Louis, the panel at CWAG was notably positive and congenial,” Gansler reports. Eighteen AGs were present for the panel, with panelists including Lori Kalani, co-chair of Cozen O’Connor’s State Attorney’s General Practice; Paul Bolar, vice president of regulatory affairs for Pharmavite (Mission Hills, CA); Ben Firschein, director of U.S. government affairs for the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP); and Idaho Deputy AG Brian Kane. The panel was moderated by Colorado AG Cynthia Coffman.
Kalani and Bolar provided an overview of the industry and existing state and federal regulations related to dietary supplements, while Kane “stressed the positive strides the industry has made” and noted the importance of continuing efforts to enhance self-regulation, according to Gansler.
“The panel also demonstrated that attitudes on both sides are shifting-the industry is heeding the call for honest dialogue about its shortcomings and need for increased self-regulation and that state AGs are beginning to distinguish the responsible industry as a whole from the few bad actors,” Gansler says.
Even with the warmer industry reception, several attorneys general still voiced significant concerns. For instance, Hawaii AG Doug Chin and Iowa AG Tom Miller both asked about assurances of supplement efficacy and premarket testing, Gansler says. Miller also “questioned the wisdom of regulating dietary supplements differently than drugs.”
“In response, the panelists, in particular [Pharmavite’s] Bolar, discussed the role of third-party testing and that, for the most part, products do what they say they will and will not do,” Gansler says. “Bolar emphasized the distinction between bad actors and the industry as a whole.”
Gansler also notes that several states remain regulatory hotspots, including Oregon, New York, Iowa, and Hawaii.
Role of Facility Tours
Several of the AGs in attendance also shared positive experiences from tours of company facilities. For instance, Idaho AG Lawrence Wasden toured Thorne Research’s (Dover, ID) facility, Alabama AG Luther Strange toured a Pharmavite facility, and District of Columbia AG Karl Racine toured the USP facility in Rockville, Maryland. AHPA and UNPA encourage other companies with “top-flight facilities” to host tours for their state AGs.
Earlier this year, AHPA and UNPA launched a joint campaign to educate state AGs about the herbal supplements industry and develop working relationships. While efforts like these appear to be paying off, AHPA notes, it’s crucial for industry to continue its outreach efforts to the AGs.
“The responsibility rests with the industry to continue educating state AGs and working with them to identify and prosecute criminal actors,” Gansler says. “Genuine discussion by some major industry players of the need for enhanced self-regulation is also helping to reduce tension and scrutiny. But the work is only beginning and must continue.”
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