The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, D.C.) has issued a statement responding to claims made by the Natural Products Association (NPA; Washington, D.C.) on social media and other platforms related to mandatory product listing (MPL) legislation, CRN’s support of MPL, and Senator Richard Durbin’s (D-IL) relationship to the dietary supplement industry. CRN characterizes these statements as false and misleading, writing that “NPA’s continued false narrative does the legitimate dietary supplement industry a disservice when it peddles misinformation and maligns Members of Congress. These are the exact tactics our detractors accused this industry of 30 years ago to describe an industry resistant to common sense and basic regulations.”
The claim made by NPA central to this dispute is that legislation, such as the Dietary Supplement Listing Act, introduced by Durbin in April of 2022, is tantamount to premarket approval. While the original text of the bill did not expressly state that FDA would be given the power to approve or reject listings submitted by dietary supplement brands, the language was vague enough to sow doubt about the bill’s intent. As a result, CRN explains that it requested and obtained the insertion of language stating: “Nothing in this section shall be construed…to grant the Secretary authority to require the approval of a dietary supplement prior to marketing.” More recently accepted revisions would go on to add language stating: “A listing is deemed complete once all fields of required information have been completed by the responsible person who represents that the product will be marketed in the United States as a dietary supplement.”
While CRN is supportive of MPL, and Durbin’s bill, the trade group has been willing to oppose MPL provisions when necessary. For example, when a version of an MPL requirement in the FDA Safety and Landmark Advancement Act (FDASLA) was passed by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP), CRN opposed it because it did not include the desired industry safeguards. Ultimately, the FDA user fee reauthorization bill did not include a mandatory product listing provision, and although more recent efforts to include the provision in the omnibus spending bill have not borne fruit, both bills have been a major source of tension among industry advocates. The FDA user fee reauthorization bill was must-pass legislation, and the omnibus spending bill is required to pass to avert a government shutdown, creating a race for both supporters and opponents of MPL to lobby lawmakers. During negotiations for the omnibus spending bill, Senator Durbin once again advocated for the inclusion of the Dietary Supplement Listing Act, and invoked CRN in his speech on the Senate floor. This drew the ire of MPL opponents who view Durbin as an adversary to the dietary supplement industry.
In response to Durbin’s speech, Daniel Fabricant, PhD, president and CEO of NPA, openly criticized Durbin and CRN in a LinkedIn post that reads, in part, “So called ‘industry leaders’ like Council for Responsible Nutrition have sold you out. At this moment they’re sidling up with U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) who has been out to destroy the industry since he first got to congress decades ago. He has repeatedly said we offer no value and only are out to harm people, called us snake oil salesmen. Now CRN and Senator Durbin are making their plea to the United States Senate to try to get mandatory product listing (MPL) de facto premarket approval implemented for the industry on the end of congress must pass budget bill. To all in the industry you’re only a ‘good guy’ according to the #illinois Senator’s speech if you’re a CRN member. Support for groups like Council for Responsible Nutrition is support for disparaging the industry.”
LinkedIn has become a dominant venue for criticism and debate on MPL. In the statement issued yesterday, December 20, 2022, CRN defended its cooperation with Durbin, citing the Senator’s claim of being a dietary supplement consumer, and adding: “It’s possible to respectfully disagree with someone without disparaging them. CRN believes in working collaboratively on issues of mutual interest to develop common ground and steer the outcome of legislative proposals. Politics doesn’t have to be divisive, inflammatory, and vitriolic. Those are just tactics of obstruction, not tools to get things done.”
Specifically addressing Fabricant’s comment that CRN has “sold out” the industry, CRN wrote, “As for the statement that CRN ‘has sold you out,’ we will humbly accept the mantle of ‘industry leader.’ Industry-leading, quality-focused companies have consistently complained that FDA isn’t doing enough to enforce the law or to maintain a fair and level playing field for conscientious marketers—yet FDA has repeatedly stated that it can’t effectively oversee an industry if it can’t see the four corners of the marketplace. Dietary supplement listing requires minimal effort to comply (just ask the companies already in the Supplement OWL); it becomes self-implementing as retailers and online platforms will refuse to allow products that are not in the registry; and it gives consumers transparency. Rather than a ‘sell-out,’ that sounds like a win-win for everyone—except for the companies who want to hide in the shadows and remain unaccountable for what they sell!”
It continued: “The fact is, our industry has evolved, as CRN members understand. The industry itself has lobbied for and achieved several additional measures allowing for enhanced regulation of dietary supplements over the years, including the Dietary Supplement and Nonprescription Drug Consumer Protection Act in 2006, Good Manufacturing Practices in 2007, and the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act in 2014. When industry works with lawmakers to ensure that their well-intentioned proposals work for legitimate players, everyone wins—including the industry itself.”
Although industry has debated the merits of MPL for a number of years, since the introduction of the Dietary Supplement Listing Act, MPL has been a hugely contentious issue. NPA has been a particularly vocal opponent of MPL and has not been shy about criticizing CRN’s support and advocacy for the provision as not being in the industry’s best interest. This isn’t the first time CRN has gone out of its way to defend its position and address concerns about MPL. In August, CRN published an open letter penned by Steve Mister, president and CEO of CRN, that addressed concerns regarding MPL in FDASLA, and attempted to dispel “disinformation,” but did not call out NPA by name.
On LinkedIn, Fabricant commented on CRN’s December 20 statement, saying, “No where [sic] in any of this nonsensical support for MPL did CRN actually come up with a rebuttal to the criticisms and problems with the content or with the way this proposed legislation came to be. At the end of the day, the industry recognized that and so did Congress so it got shut down.”