Changes in European Union food laws have caught industry hopping, says Alan Ruth, CEO of the Irish Health Trade Association. It could do well to look across the Atlantic to the pro-active trade groups there when it comes to self-promotion…
In the latter part of 2011 a number of trade associations in the food supplements industry engaged in a serious lobbying campaign with MEPs (Members of the European Parliament), in relation to the nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).
Whilst this campaign met with a degree of success, the number of MEPs who were lobbied ‘face to face’ represented a small percentage of the 754 MEPs in the European Parliament. Some of the MEPs lobbied were supportive of our industry. Others varied from being indifferent or skeptical, to being somewhat cynical, or really rather naïve.
If lobbying MEPs is to be continued and intensified, it needs to be accompanied by serious action to educate MEPs in relation to the following:
(a) the health benefits which food supplements offer consumers.
(b) the potential health care cost-savings that could be made in the European Union through greater use of food supplements.
(c) the unwarranted negative media bias and misinformation that exists regarding the efficacy and safety of food supplements. Essentially, the European food supplements industry needs to better market the value of the industry to MEPs.
Many food supplement companies are excellent at marketing. Trade associations should consider capitalising on this expertise within their member companies, to market the value of our industry at national and European level, to key stakeholders such as MEPs, Commission officials, health journalists and the medical profession.
Marketing experts and scientists within the European industry need to collaborate and share knowledge and expertise, to make this happen. How can industry realistically expect a significant level of support from MEPs, if the majority of MEPs are poorly informed or misinformed, about our industry?
Marketing the benefits of our industry to key stakeholders would serve to grow the total European market for food supplements, to the benefit of the individual companies that supply this market. In marketing the value of our industry, we should capitalise on the fact that objective one of the current EU health strategy is ‘Fostering good health in an ageing Europe’.
In relation to this objective, the strategy states: “Healthy ageing must be supported by actions to promote health and prevent disease throughout the lifespan by tackling key issues including poor nutrition …”
The European industry can learn from the US industry groups. For example, in 2011, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the Natural Products Association (NPA) were successful in achieving a re-launch of the Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus.
This caucus is an informal group which facilitate discussions among legislators about the benefits of food supplements. It also promotes research into the healthcare savings provided by food supplements, brings Congressional attention to the role of supplements in health promotion and disease prevention, and addresses regulation of the supplement industry.
What about a European equivalent which could strengthen and nurture our industry’s relationships with supportive MEPs?
Or look at the way the US industry makes good use of ‘Health Impact Studies’ relating to the use of food supplements. These studies found that four specific food supplements could save the US health care system over $24bn in five years. Was enough made of this material in the EU?
The European food supplement industry must take the education of key stakeholders, particularly MEPs, seriously. Engaging continuously with MEPs is critical for the European dietary supplement industry’s ongoing success.