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ABC's Blumenthal Speaks to Congressional Dietary Supplements Caucus

On April 6, 2011, the American Botanical Council’s Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal was the featured speaker at the Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus’s (DSC) first briefing of the 112th Congress in Washington, DC. A full-capacity crowd of an estimated 60 US House of Representative and Senate staff members attended the box-lunch event, at which Blumenthal spoke on dietary supplement (DS) usage levels, regulation, industry attempts at self-regulation, safety, and benefits.

The DSC briefing was held in cooperation with the leading dietary supplement trade associations, including the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the Natural Products Association (NPA), and the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA).

 “I’m truly grateful and honored for this invitation to talk about how safe and beneficial dietary supplements support the health of our citizens and save our nation billions in health care costs each year,” said Blumenthal. “The excellent turnout among Congressional staffers demonstrates the increasing interest in and importance of dietary supplements on Capitol Hill.”

Blumenthal was invited to speak by the trade groups for the first DSC briefing due to his deep knowledge on the scientific and clinical literature on herbal dietary supplements, his extensive experience with over 35 years in the medicinal plant community, and ABC’s position as a leading, respected, independent nonprofit research and education organization.

The following are some of the key points Blumenthal made to the DSC:

   In the years from 2003-2006, an estimated one-half of all Americans used dietary supplements, according to an article in the Journal of Nutrition.1 (The usage level has possibly increased since then.)

   Dietary supplements are regulated as foods under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

   Dietary supplements have an outstanding safety record, with government statistics showing they are one of the safest categories of consumer products.

      There are numerous systematic reviews and meta-analyses of randomized controlled clinical trials that support both the overall safety of many popular herbal DS as well as one or more clinically-documented health benefits.2

   Responsible elements of the DS industry (via trade associations) have a strong record of self-regulation, including the following:

   AHPA’s establishment of standards for nomenclature and labeling guidelines for safety of herbs used in commerce in the United States;

   CRN’s multi-year grants to the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ National Advertising Division to help ensure truthfulness in supplement advertising;

   NPA’s good manufacturing practices (GMP) program and training seminars for DS manufacturers;

   UNPA’s multi-seminar GMP training initiative, sometimes co-led with the University of Mississippi.

The DSC plans to schedule additional briefings on Capitol Hill. This was the first briefing for the 112th Congress since the DSC was re-launched for this session, and the ninth in a series of briefings since the DSC was established in 2005. The caucus serves as a bipartisan, bicameral group of members to facilitate discussions among lawmakers about the benefits of dietary supplements, provide tips and insights for better health and wellness, and promote research into the self-care and healthcare savings provided by dietary supplements. 

In addition, the DSC brings Congressional attention to the role of supplements in health promotion and disease prevention, and addresses the regulation of the dietary supplement industry. The DSC is co-chaired by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Representatives Dan Burton (R-Ind.), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).References

1. Bailey RL, Gahche JL, Lentino CV, Dwyer JT, Engel JS, et al. Dietary supplement use in the United States, 2003–2006. J Nutr. 2011;141:261-266.

2. Blumenthal M. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses support the efficacy of many popular herbs and phytomedicines. Altern Ther Health Med. 2009;15(2):14-15.