One of integrative medicine’s greatest foes got re-elected. But it’s not all bad. Here’s an overview of what we can expect in the months ahead. State-based Action Alert!
The 114th Congress was sworn in on January 3. Republicans now control both chambers, but lack the supermajority needed in the Senate to pass legislation—and of course President Obama can veto as well. So neither party has the upper hand.
The outlook for natural health is mixed. On the upside, the notorious enemy of nutritional supplements, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), has retired. On the downside, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who has long demonstrated a bias against dietary supplements, was re-elected. Our article on the senator will give you a taste of his career-long attempt to give FDA the power to sweep thousands of supplements off the shelves. He lacks prominent allies at the moment; it is our job to keep it that way.
One of natural health’s greatest champions in Congress, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), has also retired. The other major champion for nutritional supplements in the Senate, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), will likely retire in 2018. We need to enlist more congressional representatives and senators in the cause now, before Hatch retires and can no longer play defense against the attacks of monopolists in mainstream medicine and the drug industry.
There are some exciting changes on important House committees that could benefit dietary supplements:
- On the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over healthcare and dietary supplements, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) will remain the chair, and the vacancy left by Rep. Waxman will be filled by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ). This is excellent news: Upton is leading an effort to draft and introduce an important reform bill (see below), and Pallone is a co-chair of the dietary supplement caucus.
- Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), another co-chair of the dietary supplement caucus, will chair the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. We hope that Rep. Chaffetz’s hearings will help expose the anti-natural health orientation and rampant crony capitalism of both the FDA and FTC.
- Although Senate committee leadership is not yet final, the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), is expected to become the new chair. Alexander has critically challenged FDA’s position on compounded medications and has supported greater access to personal health information; however, his positions on key issues such as supplements and GMOs remain uncertain.
- Sen. Harkin’s retirement means Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is likely to serve as ranking member. Murray has been a proponent of states’ right to pass and implement GMO labeling laws and has supported access to supplements in multiple informal but meaningful meetings. We hope this is indicative of what we can expect from her in her new, more powerful position.
- GMO Labeling: It will be an uphill battle for getting genetically modified foods labeled. Republicans in the House tend to favor Rep. Mike Pompeo’s (R-KS) voluntary labeling bill, which he plans to reintroduce this session; the old bill had thirty-seven cosponsors—nearly all of whom were Republicans. Democrats favored the mandatory labeling bills introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in the Senate and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) in the House, but these bills will have difficulty gaining traction in a Republican-controlled Congress
- The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) is a set of laws passed by Congress in 1938 (and amended many times since) that gives authority to the FDA to oversee the safety of food, drugs, and cosmetics. House Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton, together with committee member Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), have launched 21st Century Cures, a new initiative that hopes to accelerate the pace of medical breakthroughs and real cures in the US. Over the next several months, members will take a comprehensive look at the full arc of this process—from discovery to development to delivery—to determine what steps we can take to make sure we take full advantage of the advances we’ve made in science and technology. We will watch this initiative and any new legislation springing from it very closely. It could have a big impact on many areas we care about—for example, laboratory-developed tests (LDTs), inexpensive diagnostic tests for patients that are developed and performed by local labs, which we consider to be key tools for the future of medicine.
- Compounding: We will be working on getting Congress and the FDA to fix some of the unfortunate changes to the compounding law that were made when the Drug Quality and Security Act was enacted in the last Congress. We hope to get some important corrective legislation introduced along the way.
- NDIs and INDs: The FDA is expected to release new guidance documents for both New Dietary Ingredients (a.k.a. new supplements) and Investigational New Drug applications. If the new guidances are still bad, we will let you know immediately and encourage Congress to take action.
- Sen. Durbin will likely reintroduce his problematic supplement labeling bill, but happily, we expect it will gain little traction in the Republican-controlled Senate: in the last session of Congress, it had only one other co-sponsor, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Action Alert for Connecticut residents! Please send a message to Sen. Blumenthal and ask him not to sign onto the bill again if it is introduced as expected. Send your message today!