A Look Back: ANH-USA Celebrates Twenty Years of Natural Health ActivismJanuary 3, 2012
And the future looks bright thanks to all your support.
In the early 1990s, a small group of practitioners, MDs, and DOs who used nutritional and other complementary therapies in their practices met to share their concerns. Medical freedom was being threatened by the FDA, by powerful allopathic medical organizations like the AMA, by insurance companies, and by state medical boards around the country. Good doctors were losing their licenses or being driven into bankruptcy simply because they used an unconventional, holistic approach to preventing disease and optimizing health.
Advancements in medicine were being stymied because good practitioners were afraid of censure. Americans had no access to some of the most cutting-edge medical therapies and technologies available in other countries, while medical costs were spiraling out of control, spurred on by the explosion in pharmaceutical, surgical, and chemotherapy treatments, many of them based on doubtful science and not even effective, despite their high cost.
In 1992, this small group began advocating for holistic health practitioners and consumers on Capitol Hill, in state legislatures, in the courts, and with the media. We called ourselves the American Preventive Medical Association (APMA) to reflect our belief that truly preventive medicine focuses on maintaining optimal health with healthy food, key nutraceuticals and dietary supplements, exercise, and complementary medical therapies.
It was a critical time: a coalition of health and industry organizations were mobilizing the largest national grassroots effort ever seen in our country. Working with a broad coalition of allies, we were able to persuade Congress to pass the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994—a major reform of the food and drug laws regulating supplements. It specifically prohibited the FDA from classifying supplements as new drugs or food additives, and permitted, for the first time, limited health claims on supplement labels, so long as no specific disease was mentioned. It also stated that the federal government should not take any actions to impose unreasonable regulatory barriers to limit or slow the flow of safe products and accurate information to consumers.
By 2004, the tide seemed to be turning against us with the FDA’s growing power and increased hostility to any approach to health that didn’t bow down before allopathic medicine and FDA-approved drugs. At that time, we changed our name to the American Association for Health Freedom, and channeled our energies into pushing back and saying No to the powers that threatened natural health. We organized a grassroots “Reform the FDA” campaign, and lobbied for the passage of an Access to Medical Treatment Act that would have guaranteed all citizens the right to the medical treatments they desired, as provided by a qualified medical professional.
About the same time, we met the folks at the Alliance for Natural Health, a UK-based organization that seemed to agree with us on just about everything. Their work in Europe since 2002 paralleled the work we were doing in the United States, and we benefited from sharing information and ideas with each other. In December of 2009, the two organizations decided to take our relationship to the next level by becoming the Alliance for Natural Health Europe and the Alliance for Natural Health USA, within one parent organization, the Alliance for Natural Health International.
This year marks our twentieth anniversary, and you have a great deal to be proud of—for we couldn’t have done the smallest bit of it without your support and grassroots activism. Thanks to you, ANH is changing the way medicine is done, and on an even deeper level, even helping to shift consciousness toward a better understanding of how our connection to nature is intimately connected to our health. Most critically, in our country ANH-USA has played an important role in passing significant legislation that directly benefits the natural health approach while blocking legislation that threatens it. We have also filed lawsuits to accomplish the same aims.
- To date, we have filed nine precedent-setting lawsuits against the FDA, which have established qualified health claims for saw palmetto, Omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, vitamin B, and selenium. Our first suit was the landmark case of Pearson v. Shalala—and because we won, there is now widespread public knowledge about the importance of consuming enough folate during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects. Prior to this legal victory, supplement manufacturers were not permitted to let consumers know about this important nutrient relationship, and many consumers were in the dark.
- We also sued the FDA (and won!) for violating the First Amendment as well as the Administrative Procedure Act by not allowing the dissemination of truthful, scientific information on dietary supplement labels.
- We also succeeded in having the Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act (HIPAA) state explicitly that the practice of alternative medicine is not fraud—a critical protection for alternative health care practitioners.
- We led the effort to establish the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in 1998. It’s part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), undertakes research, does training, and disseminates data to the public and professionals. NCCAM still isn’t where we want it to be, but we hope to get it there.
- We worked with Reps. Chaffetz and Polis to introduce the Free Speech about Science Act in the House of Representatives, which will permit supplement companies to cite peer-reviewed scientific research in support of product health benefits.
- We organized an emergency response to a major threat to dietary supplements in Congress: Sen. McCain’s Dietary Supplement Safety Act. ANH-USA activists sent more than 200,000 messages to Congress opposing the bill, and we took out a full-page ad in Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, which highlighted misleading remarks from Sen. McCain on the Senate floor. In just three weeks, Sen. McCain took the almost unheard-of step of withdrawing support for his own bill, which subsequently died without a vote.
- Our activists, still mobilized and eager to act, were then able to defeat a sneak amendment to the Wall Street Finance Reform bill from Congressman Waxman that would have greatly expanded the FTC’s power to target supplement companies.
- Not much later, you sent more than 60,000 messages to Congress opposing Sen. Leahy’s Food Safety Accountability Act, which would have established ten-year prison terms for violating FDA regulations, leading Leahy’s office to reach out to ANH-USA to develop compromise language requiring proof of actual harm for prosecution. When the bill failed to become law, we worked together to ensure the ten-year prison term language did not make it into the Senate’s Food Safety Modernization Act.
- It was not long before the FDA and Sen. Durbin made their coordinated attacks on dietary supplements. The response to our call for activists to oppose the FDA’s new draft guidance has been nothing short of inspiring (read our exciting news on that subject in this issue!).
We’ve filed petitions to ban the use of the toxic chemical BPA in cash register receipts and children’s dental devices. You’ve petitioned the USDA and FDA with us to oppose GMOs, and supported state bills to demand GMO labeling. These petitions are a necessary prelude to lawsuits. We’ve organized a coalition of dietitians and nutritionists to oppose the American Dietetic Association’s ties to junk food companies and anti-competitive legislation, and launched the ReallyEatRight.org website to bring the ADA’s activities to light.
And through it all, we’ve continued to bring you The Pulse of Natural Health every week, keeping you up to date on the politics of natural health and much else besides. You’ve rewarded us with your activism in our campaigns, your insightful comments on our articles, and your generous donations to make all these victories possible.
The freedoms we enjoy today are the direct result of the actions of activists like you. As we mark this milestone in 2012, we will continue to work tirelessly to protect and promote natural health and freedom of choice in healthcare. The last twenty years have shown what we can do when we work together. During the next twenty years, as the crisis in conventional healthcare finally becomes evident to everyone, we have a unique opportunity to bring the word about sustainable and effective natural health options to millions of people around the world as well as our leaders in Washington and state capitals.