A manufacturer of encapsulated herbs and vitamins has opened its new $7 million manufacturing and warehouse facility.

On hand were some 1,200 Nature's Sunshine Products Inc. managers here last week for an annual international convention in Salt Lake City. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was the keynote speaker Saturday at the convention. Hatch has been active in supporting the herb and vitamin industry in Congress, including passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994.While Hatch has supported the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the industry, he has also been its fiercest critic. "I can never recall being more at odds with the FDA over any issue that I have been with its approach to the regulation of dietary supplements," he said.

The senator encouraged self-policing among people in the industry against unsubstantiated claims and unsafe products. "Part of the FDA game plan is to attempt to characterize those relatively few supplement products and claims that are on the fringe as being representative of mainstream practices in the industry," he said.

"The best defense in this battle of anecdotes is to deny the agency this line of argument by eliminating marginal products and overstated claims in the first place," he said. "Consumers value and demand high quality dietary supplements . . . Succeed in this task and you will prosper."

A multilevel marketing company, Nature's Sunshine manufactures most of its nearly 500 herbal and vitamin products at the Utah County facility, them ships them to 17 countries around the world where more than 600,000 distributors market them. Last year the publicly traded company had $281 million in sales. Total assets in 1997 were $96 million.

Products include herbal nutritional remedies that the company says support good health. Some products promote weight loss, according to the company. One of the biggest sellers worldwide is cascara sagrada, a natural laxative; St. Johns wort, which fights depression and liquid chlorophyll, which is touted as supporting the digestive system.

Nature's Sunshine can trace its beginnings to an ulcer and spoonfuls of cayenne pepper. In 1972, Kristine F. Hughes watched as her math-teacher husband, Gene, would down the pepper and chase it with water to help his ulcer. It worked.

Kristine suggested they buy some capsules to put the cayenne pepper in to make the pepper easier to swallow. Soon, she thought that if it worked for Gene, other people might also benefit from it.

The family began encapsulating herbs by hand around the family's kitchen table. Then in 1974 they began selling their products through multilevel marketing with Gene's late brother, Dick, and their wives at the helm, said a company spokesman.

The company was called Amtec Industries when it went public in 1976 and began trading on the NASDAQ exchange. It became Nature's Sunshine in 1983.

Corporate headquarters is in Provo's East Bay Business Park and the manufacturing and distribution facility is in Spanish Fork where the new addition just opened.

The new structure, now mostly empty, will allow expansion as the company grows, said John Dewyze, vice president of operations.

"This means we have the capacity to triple our sales," added Daniel P. Howells, president and chief executive officer. The added space will also provide room for product development and quality assurance. It measures 95,000 square feet and more than doubles the company's manufacturing and shipping building.

Nature's Sunshine receives frequent shipments of vitamins and some 300 herbs from around the world and processes them into dietary products. But first it quarantines them while it takes samples for testing. Raw material that is approved moves on to processing, while material that is rejected is sent back to the source, Dewyze said.

Company officials are optimistic with the rise in interest for herbal products. "We hope to capitalize on that interest," said Douglas Faggioli, chief operating officer.