When Dennis Clayville went to Washington, D.C., recently, he carried with him a number of burning questions, including this one:
Dennis Clayville, owner of Nature’s Pantry in La Grande, traveled to Washington, D.C., to persuade senators and congressmen to support positions of the National Products Association. - The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Why can people buy junk food with food stamps, but not healthy vitamin and mineral dietary supplements?
Clayville, the owner of Nature’s Pantry on Fourth Street in La Grande, sits on the National Products Association northwest board of directors.
Once a year, the board sends delegates to the nation’s capital to try and persuade senators and congressmen to support the associations positions.
Clayville was tapped to go along on the trip April 7-8. He said he found the experience rewarding.
“It’s the first time I’ve done it, and I’d like to do it again,” he said.
The NPA contingent met with U.S. Congressman Greg Walden, and with legislative aides for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore).
The mission was to drum up support for a number of pending bills, including the Food Stamp Vitamin and Mineral Improvement Act and the Dietary Supplement and Healthy Meal Replacement Tax Parity Act.
The food stamp legislation, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) would change the law so people are free to buy vitamin and mineral supplements with their food stamps, just as they are free to buy less-healthy products.
“There’s a real irony in the fact that you can buy a non-nutritional food with food stamps, but not a multi-vitamin,” Clayville said.
According to NPA literature, the supplements could improve appetite and growth rates in poor children, decrease infectious disease in the elderly, prevent birth defects and protect against heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
The tax parity act, introduced by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), deals with what may be purchased with money health savings accounts and flex spending accounts.
The accounts allow participants certain tax breaks for medical expenditures. Towns’ bill would expand the list of allowable purchases to include specific dietary supplements and foods with demonstrated health benefits.
“With the rising cost of health care, we think a little prevention might be worth something,” Clayville said.
Another bill supported by the National Products Association is the Child Nutrition and School Lunch Protection Act, also introduced by Harkin.
The legislation would re-define standards for “food of minimal nutritional value” served in schools.
Clayville said Walden met personally with board members and expressed some support for the bill dealing with Health Savings Accounts.
“He said, ‘That’s our money, isn’t it?’ So he’s going to look at it,” Clayville said.
He said aides from Wyden and Smith’s offices agreed that the bills are important ones.
“They indicated they were crucial enough issues,” Clayville said.
Curt Bush, Smith’s aide, told the board members the senator likely wouldn’t take a hand until the bills have moved out of committee.
“Smith doesn’t sign on early to legislation. He likes to wait till things are pretty well hammered out,” he said.
In a couple other instances, board members urged officials to to take a stand against legislation.
The board registered opposition to a ban on dehydroepiandrosterone, also known as DHEA. The natural products industry believes the substance, most frequently used by people with deficient hormone levels, should not be classified as an anabolic steroid.
The National Products Association is also against proposed changes to the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994.
Rather than change the law, the association is calling for adequate funding for the FDA to fully implement it. Full implementation should include final regulations for good manufacturing practices for dietary supplements, according to the association.
The board’s visit to the capitol included some sightseeing, and a reception attended by many senators, congressmen, and aides.
Clayville said a high point was meeting Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
“Tester is the only active farmer in the Senate. He delayed going home and planting his organic peas so he could meet with us,” Clayville said.
Now that the annual visit to the capital is done, Clayville said the association will follow the bills’ progress.
“We will follow up and monitor our impact,” Clayville said.