Craig Alan Winters, a tireless activist for environmental and natural health causes, died July 3, 2009, from complications related to cancer.1 He was 58 years old.
Among his many endeavors, Winters co-founded the influential grassroots organization Citizens For Health (CFH) in 1991. Interested in natural health for most of his life, Winters was concerned that Americans could potentially lose access to dietary supplements, herbs, and alternative health services, said Alexander Schauss, PhD, CEO and senior director of natural and medicinal products research at AIBMR Life Sciences, Inc (oral communication, August 13, 2009).
“There was a lot of really weird stuff going on at the time,” said Dr. Schauss, referring to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raids on alternative healthcare clinics and health food stores, as well as proposed regulations to give FDA broad regulating authority over dietary supplements. Such authority would have restricted what information could be provided about the benefits of dietary supplements, even by physicians and medical associations.2 It was feared that many supplements would have to be submitted to FDA for pre-market drug approval based on evidence of their therapeutic efficacy, he added. This would have effectively removed most supplements from consumer access until each was individually approved via a costly and time-consuming process similar to how new drugs are approved before being allowed onto the market.
Later in 1991, Winters was appointed CFH’s chairman of the board. Though this was initially an unpaid volunteer position, he threw all of his energy into CFH and ended up leaving his full-time salaried job, added Dr. Schauss.
“He just had this tremendous spirit to do anything he could to educate people on matters of health, always cognizant that he was not a physician,” said Dr. Schauss.
Soon CFH focused its work on the Health Freedom Act of 1992 and later on the passing of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). Winters vigorously researched the issues associated with DSHEA, as well as the members of Congress who were unsure of or against passing the legislation. He shared information and brainstormed strategies with Dr. Schauss, who would then travel to Washington, DC to speak with members of Congress and their staff, sometimes persuading them to become co-sponsors of DSHEA.
“Craig had tremendous organizational skills,” Dr. Schauss said. “He literally wouldn’t get off the phone for hours and hours. He was always behind the scenes, but in a very, very constructive and productive way.”
Dr. Schauss recalled a time that Winters spent an hour-and-a-half explaining DSHEA to employees at a natural health store in Rhode Island after discovering that the wife of Sen. John H. Chafee (R-RI) often shopped there. The next time Sen. Chafee’s wife visited the shop, the store’s employees were well informed and could talk with her about DSHEA. She allegedly returned home to speak with her husband, who ended up not only voting for passage of the bill in a key Senate committee, but also signed on as a co-sponsor of DSHEA, said Dr. Schauss.
Winters also came up with the idea to create local CFH chapters and letter writing campaigns around the United States in order to educate citizens and increase the base of supporters who would communicate with members of Congress, Dr. Schauss continued.
“It was remarkable what transpired from that point on,” he said.
DSHEA was eventually passed by Congress without one dissenting vote, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 25, 1994.3 Winters and the other CFH staff members cried when they heard the news. Soon after, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) formally recognized the role that CFH and its members played in lobbying for passage of the bill, and the House sponsor of DSHEA, Rep. Bill Richardson (D-NM), thanked CFH, said Dr. Schauss.
“Without Craig’s ongoing support of this campaign, I’m really not sure if DSHEA would exist today or not,” he added.
Once the battle for DSHEA was won, Winters’ energy and passion for natural health and the environment did not stop. Concerned about the effect that genetically-modified (GM) food could have on people’s health and the environment, Winters co-founded The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods (CLGEF) in the late 1990s.1
“He saw how big the problem was, and he saw a need to tackle the issues head on,” said Cameron Woodworth of Green Designs Internet Solutions and former communications director for CLGEF (e-mail, August 18, 2009).
Winters worked with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) on legislation to require labeling of GM foods, encouraged citizens to send letters to their Congress members, and communicated information with the public through speeches, debates, and CLGEF’s website, he continued.
“In Europe, genetically engineered foods are labeled,” said Woodworth. “Craig thought that Americans deserved this right as well.”
Though Congressman Kucinich has introduced several labeling acts and bills to the House of Representatives from 2000 until 2006, none have been successful.
“Craig had hoped that things might change under the Obama administration,” said Woodworth.
During his life, Winters spent time as a representative for a natural products company, taught a class on nutrition in the natural products industry at Bastyr University, and helped co-found EarthSave Seattle to promote the benefits of eating a plant-based diet.1,4 He also helped transform CLGEF into The Campaign, which additionally focused on issues such as food irradiation, toxic fertilizers, global warming, and solar energy.
Winters is survived by his parents Robert and Lillian Winters and a brother. Before his death, Winters requested that all donations to The Campaign, which recently ceased operations, be sent to the Institute for Responsible Technology, which continues to work for the labeling of GM foods, said Dr. Schauss. (PO Box 469, Fairfield, IA 52556 or www.responsibletechnology.org.)
While working so tirelessly, Winters maintained his unique stamina and focus and always motivated others to stay positive, said Dr. Schauss, adding, “He did more in his years than most people do in two lifetimes.”
“[Craig] saw a problem, a need, and he took action,” said Woodworth. “Folks in the natural foods industry are deeply saddened that he is gone. He leaves a legacy of standing up for what is right, for being brave enough to step up and play a leadership role, for being able to stay positive and active even though the problems facing us are great.”
- Woodworth C. In Memoriam – Craig Winters (1951-2009). Organic Consumers Association website. Available at: http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_18453.cfm. Accessed August 18, 2009.
- Williams L. FDA steps up effort to control vitamin claims. New York Times. August 9, 1992: Section 1 Page 1. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/08/09/us/ fda-steps-up-effort-to-control-vitamin-claims.html?pagewanted=all. Accessed August 18, 2009.
- Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition website. Available at: http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/dietsupp. html. Accessed August 14, 2009.
- Craig Winters 2004 Pioneer Award recipient [press release]. Port Townsend, WA: Natural Products Association Northwest; November 6, 2004.