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The 2008 Elections and Dietary Supplements

By James J. Gormley

As we approach the November elections, we may well wonder if one party or another is a better champion of dietary supplements.

Some political observers have suggested that the Democratic party may boast a few more anti-supplement foes in Congress than does the Republican party. But do party labels matter when it comes to dietary supplements?

What the Experts in Washington Tell Us
Edward Long, Ph.D., vice president of congressional relations for Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, Capitol Associates, Inc., said that there is no one completely pro-supplement and pro-health freedom party, and that different ideologies run through both major parties.

“There are two strains of Democrats,” noted Long. “One is a populist strain, which goes back to the 1890s, the goo-goos, the good government people who believe that American citizens need to be protected by government in every possible way and to be told what to do. It’s from this camp that a few of dietary supplements’ greatest critics have emerged.”

“Then there’s the more liberal, anarchistic side of the Democratic Party that goes back to the 1960s and 1970s, which holds that mainstream medicine doesn’t really work. It’s out of this strain that we have found a few of dietary supplements’ greatest advocates.”

What about the Republicans? Long said that while there is a sizeable subset of the Republican Party that is opposed to regulation, and over-regulation, in general, “there’s another strain that believes that, in certain cases, we need more regulation, such as with DHEA [dehydroepiandrosterone],” a beneficial supplement especially important for seniors.

When asked about dietary supplements and the upcoming general elections, David Seckman, the CEO and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based dietary supplement industry group, the Natural Products Association, offered some insights.

“When it comes to supplements and how members of Congress vote on legislation impacting the industry,” said Seckman, “one rule seems to always ring true: supplement issues are truly non-partisan.” Looking at the many past and current legislative champions for the industry, Seckman added that “we have almost the same number of ‘friends’ and ‘champions’ on either side of the aisle.”

As to the presidential election, Seckman concluded that while “conventional wisdom says that Republicans favor less regulation, we need to remember that DSHEA [the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994] was passed with a Democratic administration” and that “the industry has enjoyed fairly broad bipartisan support.”

Stay Connected to Advocacy Groups
This November, don’t assume that either of the major parties will necessarily be zeroing in on protecting our access to dietary supplements and the industry’s ability to provide them. That’s our job.

As consumers we can stay on top of opportunities for (and threats to) dietary supplements by visiting Citizens for Health (http://www.citizens.org) and clicking “Join Us” and the American Association for Health Freedom (http://www.healthfreedom.net) and clicking “Free Alerts.”

Health-food retailers can stay linked in to the issues by visiting the Natural Products Association website (http://www.naturalproductsassoc.org) and signing up for Action Alerts.

Communicate with Your Legislators
All of us should try to regularly communicate (effectively and politely) with our own district’s Senators and U.S. Representatives to ensure that our access to dietary supplements is always protected and that DSHEA is never weakened.

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