In January, AHPA and UNPA launched a joint campaign to develop working relationships with state attorneys general (AG) and educate them about the herbal supplement industry to ensure they have an accurate understanding of the industry. Former Maryland Attorney General and Past President of the National Association of Attorneys General. Gansler was hired to help deliver information and expertise about the industry to his colleagues.
The Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG) held its annual meeting in Sun Valley, Idaho, from July 17-20, 2016. CWAG, one of the four regional segments of the National Association of Attorneys General, is non-partisan and very business friendly.
Over 800 people attended the meeting, where state attorneys general ("AGs") hosted a nutritional supplement panel (the "panel"). The panel, moderated by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, focused on substantive issues, including dietary supplement manufacturing and ingredient quality. The panelists included Lori Kalani, Co-Chair of the State Attorneys General Practice, Cozen O'Connor; Dr. Paul Bolar of Pharmavite; Ben Firschein, Director of US Government Affairs, US Pharmacopeia; and, Brian Kane, Idaho Deputy Attorney General. Dr. Bolar was the consensus industry selection following much discussion on finding an articulate scientist who could explain the industry standards on the supply side.
Unlike previous supplement panels held during the National Association of Attorneys General meeting last year in St. Louis, the panel at CWAG was notably positive and congenial. This positive shift indicates that the dietary supplement industry's state AG educational and advocacy engagement is working and that perhaps negative attention from state AGs is diminishing. The panel also demonstrated that attitudes on both sides are shifting--that industry is heeding the call for honest dialogue about its shortcomings and need for increased self-regulation and that state AGs are beginning to distinguish the responsible industry as a whole from the few bad actors. The panel presentation and ensuing questions indicate that progress is being made but that there is more work to be done.
AG enforcement focus and the role of self-regulation
Panelists Kalani and Bolar presented the 18 AGs in the room, along with staff members, a broad overview of the industry and the existing dietary supplement federal and state regulatory framework. Bolar provided scientific credibility to discussions on existing safety and quality measures, including the effectiveness of DSHEA and GMPs. Deputy Idaho Attorney General Kane stressed the positive strides the industry has made but offered that the industry must continue enhancing its self-regulation efforts. The Panel did inform the audience that continued and enhanced industry self-regulation is in the mainstream conversation and that many initiatives are being discussed.
During the Q&A, Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin asked the panel "what assurances do we have that the product accomplishes what is says it will accomplish?" Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller asked a follow up also raising concerns about efficacy and premarket testing to ensure that consumers are getting what they paid for. AG Miller went even further and questioned the wisdom of regulating dietary supplements differently than drugs. In response, the panelists, in particular Bolar, discussed the role of third-party testing and that, for the most part, products do what they say they will and will not do. Bolar emphasized the distinction between bad actors and the industry as a whole. Finally, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange encouraged his colleagues to tour a supplement facility in their home state to get a better feel for the quality controls and professionalism of the industry.
As a whole, the panel discussion demonstrated that industry and state AGs share the goals of ensuring that consumers get safe, quality products and those who put consumers at risk should be put out of business. The few bad actors not only place consumers at risk, but they hurt the optics of the industry as a whole. The responsibility rests with the industry to continue educating state AGs and working with them to identify and prosecute criminal actors.
AG engagement through facilities tours
There are clear signals some AGs are starting to differentiate between responsible companies and outliers, although Oregon, New York, Iowa, and Hawaii remain regulatory hotspots. Many of the AGs present asked questions and shared positive insights about their experiences with dietary supplement companies, including Idaho AG Lawrence Wasden, through his communication with and tour of Thorne Research's Idaho facility. Along with General Strange's observations from his tour of the Alabama Pharmavite facility, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine promoted his tour of the USP facility in Rockville, Maryland. The accolades made it clear that top-flight facilities are great ambassadors. I encourage AHPA and UNPA members with top-flight facilities to host their state AG on tours. Please contact me if you would like assistance setting up and hosting a tour.
As the direct result of state AG engagement and advocacy, negative attention on the industry as a whole from state AGs appears to be diminishing. Genuine discussion by some major industry players of the need for enhanced self-regulation, is also helping to reduce tension and scrutiny. But the work is only beginning and must continue. Industry must keep building relationships with state AGs through its former Attorney General allies, its handful of associations like AHPA and UNPA, as well as improved self-regulation. Industry must keep looking for solutions and educating state AGs about the industry to better achieve the common goals of providing consumers with safe and effective dietary supplements.