In the aftermath of the most divisive and anomalous election season of modern US history, experts contacted by NutraIngredients-USA said it’s hard to know what the effect the fractious campaign will have on the functioning of government (or lack thereof) within the halls of Congress. Of more importance is who will occupy those halls; of the more than 40 members of the Dietary Supplement Caucus, only a few lost or vacated their seats yesterday.
Among the big wins for the caucus was the election of Democrat Tammy Duckworth as one of Illinois’ Senators. It turned out to be the only seat that the Democrats picked up in the election, leaving the GOP in control of both houses. Duckworth, who was already one of the more vocal members of the caucus, vacated her seat in the House. She was replaced by newcomer Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi who won the race for the vacant seat.
Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, said that the transition to the Senate brings new pressures to bear on a legislator. So while he said that Duckworth has been a friend of the industry in the past, her continued support should not be taken for granted.
“Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin was a member of the caucus when she was in the House and has not rejoined since she went into the Senate,” he said.
Among Senators in the caucus, Duckworth joins Republicans John Boozman of Arkansas and Tim Scott of South Carolina, both of whom won re-election yesterday. Co-chairs Orrin Hatch, R-UT and Martin Heinrich, D-NM were not up for re-election.
Educating new members
There was a small amount of turnover among other House members of the caucus. Mike Greene, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, said that with so many seats now located in secure districts (i.e. ones that reliably vote either Democratic or Republican), turnover now often comes from retirements, moves to the Senate or primary losses, as happened with caucus member Congressman Renee Ellmers, R-NC.
“Normally at the beginning of every Congress we refile the caucus. It used to be that we had to reach out to each individual to see if they wanted to continue to be a member; now we tell participants they will continue to be carried as members unless they affirmatively opt out,” he said.
In any case, while the caucus has not changed in a big way, Congress has, Greene said. Each new Congress brings new faces and reduces the number of members who were serving at the time that the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act was passed in 1994. So education begins anew.
“One of the first things when the new Congress comes in we will be educating the new members about the industry. I believe this will be a new high in terms of the influx of new members,” he said.
Natural Products Association president Dr Daniel Fabricant said that institutional knowledge is being lost so that even with firm GOP control of both Houses, it’s no time for companies to get complacent.
“Even in 2010, there were only 30% of the members of the House who were around when DSHEA was passed. At NPA we have been very successful in meeting with new members, working with them to see where there is some synergy. The key message to industry is to get involved and help tell the story that this is a small-business type industry that employs people and actually creates jobs,” he said.
Michael McGuffin said the statements Trump has made about the FDA, when he briefly flirted with eliminating what he called “the food police,” means that new funding for regulatory measures is very unlikely to come from the Trump administration. So industry is going to have to assume more of that burden, he said.
“We need continued effort and continued vigilance to build up the caucus as that first line of support. But I think it’s very difficult to think that we would see an increase in the budget for the Office of Dietary Supplements. That’s another reason for the industry to seriously engage in self-regulatory models that can help protect consumers,” he said.