Long-time natural products industry lawyer Robert Ullman and his wife of over 60 years, Joan, passed away on August 15, 2015. Bob Ullman, senior counsel at Ullman, Shapiro, & Ullman, was an advocate for rational legislation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and he represented the dietary supplement industry in landmark cases that successfully paved the way for the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).
Upon his retirement in 2005, Mr. Ullman received the National Nutritional Foods Association’s (now the Natural Products Association’s) President Award in recognition of his contributions to the natural products industry. Throughout his 45-year career, his tenacity and dedication were legendary, as were his day-to-day efforts to serve and represent his clients.
Mr. Ullman was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1933 and graduated magna cum laude from New York University in 1955. He earned his law degree from the same institution in 1961 and joined the firm of Bass & Friend with his colleague Milton Bass. Eventually, he became a partner, and the firm changed to Bass & Ullman in 1969. It was during this time that Mr. Ullman took on the cases that would define his career and shape the natural products industry into its modern form.
In 1979, Mr. Ullman represented FoodScience Laboratories in front of the 7th Circuit Court, defending the use of N,N-dimethylglycine (DMG) as an active ingredient in the company’s “vitamin B-15” tablets. The company did not prevail, largely because DMG was deemed a “food additive,” and food additives must be approved by the FDA before they are allowed on the market.
However, several years later, a similar case came up in front of the court. The FDA had seized barrels of blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum, Grossulariaceae) oil from Traco Labs in Champaign, Illinois. Once again, Mr. Ullman represented the industry and argued his case successfully in what marked a turning point for supplement legislation. The FDA claimed that the oil, which was packaged in gelatin capsules, was an unapproved food additive on the basis that the gelatin capsule counted as a “food.” Showing a theatrical flair, Mr. Ullman brought a bottle of the oil with him into the courtroom and took a drink, asking if that same oil counted as a food in bottled format and, if so, how it differed when contained in gelatin capsules. The court ruled in favor of Traco Labs, and the ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals, where the FDA’s argument was described as an “Alice in Wonderland” approach. The phrase quickly became popular, and during the process of passing DSHEA, US Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) referred back to the case as a clear example of the need for legislative reform.
Mr. Ullman defended the industry in many other pivotal cases, including one in which the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) attempted to categorize high-dose vitamin A and D caplets as drugs, and another in which the FTC took action against Metagenics regarding the claims made on their Bone Builder® calcium supplements.
In 1999, Bass & Ullman dissolved, and Mr. Ullman became senior council at the newly formed Ullman, Shapiro, & Ullman with partners Steven Shapiro and Marc Ullman, his son. When celebrating his father’s receipt of the NPA’s President Award in 2005, Marc Ullman was quoted as saying, “I grew up watching my father fight for the supplements industry with a passion that didn’t accept failure or defeat. He has literally dedicated his life to defending this industry, and inspired us all by the passion he brings to defending his clients.”1
Many of Mr. Ullman’s friends and colleagues expressed their heartfelt gratitude for his tireless efforts. “I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Ullman many years ago when he accepted our NPA President’s Award,” said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, NPA’s executive director and CEO. “I knew how important his contributions were to NPA and this industry. He has always been a staunch defender of the rights of both retailers and manufacturers to present their views and sell their products…. He truly transcended a lifetime of achievement in our industry and will be greatly missed.”2
“Bob’s contributions to the natural products and dietary supplement industries cannot be overstated,” said Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association. “Bob’s legacy will always be seen in the access enjoyed today to a wide array of products that promote health and well-being and in the prosperity of these industries.”
“I will always remember Bob as a strong advocate for consumer rights to access to dietary supplements and as a ‘bulldog-like’ advocate on behalf of his numerous clients in the natural products and dietary supplements industry,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council. “Bob’s excellent litigation in the now-famous Traco case demonstrated the absurdity of the FDA’s untenable position on blackcurrant seed oil. … It was a key decision in favor of consumer access to dietary ingredients without the FDA’s abuse of the food additive provision of the law.”
Mr. Ullman and his wife are survived by their son, Marc, and daughter, Gail Ullman Corbett.
- Ullman, Shapiro, and Ullman, LLP. Industry veteran Robert Ullman receives NNFA President’s Award. Engredea News and Analysis. July 18, 2005. Available at: http://newhope360.com/supply-news-amp-analysis/industry-veteran-robert-ullman-receives-nnfa-presidents-award. Accessed September 9, 2015.
- Pioneering natural product industry attorney Robert Ullman passes away at 81 [press release]. Silver Spring, MD: American Herbal Products Association; August 17, 2015.