by Marion Nestle
May 3 2022

RIP Senator Orrin Hatch

The New York Times’ obituary for the late Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, “Orrin Hatch, Seven-Term Senator and a Republican Force, Dies at 88,” filled an entire page of the newspaper.  That’s how important he was.

I was surprised that the obituary said not one word about Senator’s Hatch’s responsibility for the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA, pronounced d’shay).  The purpose of this act was to boost the supplement industry, which is well represented in Utah, by taking it out from under the regulatory authority of the FDA.

As a reminder, DSHEA:

  • Assumed that dietary supplements were safe.
  • Essentially deregulated them by weakening the FDA’s regulatory power.
  • Permitted structure/function health claims on supplements, (e.g., supports a healthy immune system), regardless of level of scientific substantiation.
  • Labeled supplements with Supplement Facts rather than Nutrition Facts.
  • Forced the FDA to take manufacturers to court if agency regulators had concerns about safety, misleading claims, or inconsistent contents.
  • Caused the FDA to lose court cases on First Amendment grounds.

The results:

  • The supplement industry expanded rapidly, achieving DSHEA’s purpose.
  • You cannot be sure that what you are buying is actually waht the label says you are buying.
  • You cannot be sure that claimed benefits have any science behind them.
  • Food manufacturers demanded the right to make struture/function claims.
  • Use of the First Amendment to protect commercial (rather than personal, political, or religious) speech has gotten stronger.

We have Orrin Hatch to thank for turning the supplement industry into one based on faith, not science.

Why would he do this?

The obituary suggests one possibility:

During the opioid crisis in 2015, he introduced a bill to narrow the authority of government regulators to halt the marketing of drugs by predatory pharmaceutical companies. It later emerged that he had received $2.3 million in donations from the drug industry over 25 years.

For a more direct explanation, check out this article about Senator Hatch from the New York Times in 2011, “Support Is Mutual for Senator and Utah Industry.

“Senator Hatch — he’s our natural ally,” said Marc S. Ullman, a lawyer for several supplement companies. Mr. Hatch, who credits a daily regimen of nutritional supplements for his vigor at 77, has spent his career in Washington helping the $25-billion-a-year industry thrive….Mr. Hatch has been rewarded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, political loyalty and corporate sponsorship of his favorite causes back home.  His family and friends have benefited, too, from links to the supplement industry.

Hatch’s efforts to deregulate supplements did no good for public health or trust in science.  As the obituary said,

But there were no political repercussions. The senator was re-elected in 1982, 1988, 1994, 2000, 2006 and 2012, averaging nearly 65 percent of the vote.

Requiescat in pace.