Utahns all rejoice in the latest news about our relatively low unemployment numbers and our relatively high budget surpluses, two strong and positive economic conditions that set us apart from most other states.
Many are unaware, however, of one industry’s tremendous contribution to that economic engine. With 11 percent growth per annum, Utah’s largest industry — the dietary supplement industry — currently contributes more than $7 billion annually to our economy.
And that’s in Utah alone. The national figure approaches almost $35 billion.
It wasn’t always that way. Indeed, 20 years ago, annual sales of Utah’s dietary supplement industry were estimated at $924 million and nationally they were around $5 billion.
What accounts for this amazing sevenfold economic growth in two decades?
The answer largely rests on the broad shoulders of one legislative giant: Sen. Orrin Hatch. Time and time again, Hatch has fought an intransigent Washington, D.C., bureaucracy to restore a measure of sanity and responsible regulation to our country’s laws.
In this case, the intransigent bureaucracy was the Food and Drug Administration, widely recognized as having a deep animosity toward dietary supplement products for literally decades.
In the early 1990s, I was among a group of concerned supplement executives who met with Hatch and implored him to help us continue our work to make and sell high-quality vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, probiotics and fish oils for health-conscious consumers.
No stranger to the world of food and drug law, Hatch had had a hand in every FDA bill that passed in Congress since he came to Washington. He was familiar with many of the actions the FDA had taken against dietary supplement companies.
He saw how the FDA tried to stifle manufacturers from telling pregnant women that 0.5 micrograms of folic acid taken daily could prevent half of all neural tube defects (spina bifida), even though the FDA’s parent agency, the Public Health Service, and its sister agency, the Centers for Disease Control, supported this important health news.
The Utah senator also saw how the FDA had tried to set low potency limits on the vitamins and minerals consumers could purchase. He’d witnessed these events in Washington. He'd heard these stories at home. And he’d had enough.
Hatch worked to right this wrong with energy unequaled in Washington. I was there. And we all watched with pride and respect. It took three laborious years of coalition building, consensus forging and expert legislative craftsmanship.
In typical Hatch fashion, he quickly enlisted the aid of a congressman from New Mexico, Bill Richardson, and a senator from Iowa, Tom Harkin, both adding immeasurably to the campaign.
Along the way, our Utah senator built a powerful coalition of Republicans and Democrats, senators and representatives. He brought together business and industry and consumers and public-health advocates — all working to allow consumer access to beneficial, high-quality supplements.
The culmination of that work was the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, also called DSHEA, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton 20 years ago this weekend.
In that law, Hatch delivered what we’d all been seeking: not deregulation, but responsible regulation written in black and white that included new quality standards, new safety requirements and new labeling requirements.
With more than 100 dietary supplement companies here, Utah is widely recognized as the global leader in dietary supplement manufacturing and brand leadership.
The economic growth delivered by the dietary supplement industry is largely the result of the work of Sen. Orrin Hatch. And for that, consumers in Utah and around the world should thank him.
Loren Israelsen is the president of the United Natural Products Alliance, based in Salt Lake City. An internationally recognized dietary supplement expert, Israelsen was one of the lead negotiators of DSHEA.