By the time this article is published an entirely new European Parliament will have met for the very first time. These are the men and women who, for the next five years, will have an enormous influence on the development of laws that affect everyday life throughout the 28 EU Member States.
As with every legislature after an election, a significant proportion of these Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will be new to their role; indeed, given that the European Parliament tends to attract less mainstream parties and individuals, it is likely that a great number of these new MEPs will be entirely new to elected office. Smooth, experienced, cynical professional politicians they are not and this is precisely why it is crucial that the natural products industry start engaging with them now.
A few big issues will dominate the new parliament – how to solve the Eurozone crisis, for example – and on these we can expect the new MEPs to have firm, well-informed views. But, on the myriad of relatively small problems that the European Parliament must deal with, new parliamentarians are often, in the nicest possible sense, entirely clueless. They may have a philosophical position that informs their view or they may have some hazy ideas on a particular topic but much of the time they will merely follow the lead set for them by the political group to which they belong.
Here is both great danger and great opportunity for the natural products sector. The danger lies in the fact that every big business and lobbying group knows that this cohort of new MEPs are open-minded – and open to influence.
Groups such as Food Supplements Europe (FSE), the lobbying organisation funded by multinational supplement corporations, will be moving fast to press MEPs on the supposed advantages of setting low maximum permitted levels in vitamin and mineral supplements at the earliest opportunity. That this would force consumers to give up safe, well-established higher potency products is something that FSE would not of course admit to these MEPs and, as they are so new and on ground with which they are unfamiliar, it cannot be expected that MEPs would automatically know this.
But it is a time for opportunities too. The natural products sector can take the initiative themselves and it does not have to be expensive or time-consuming.
Consumers for Health Choice, the campaigning group which I serve as Director of Strategy, is starting its engagement now. Over the summer we will be encouraging our supporters to meet their newly-elected MEPs here in the UK to speak to them about why preserving consumer choice in natural health products is so important. We will be working closely with other supportive groups to ensure that small retailers in the sector are able to put their points to MEPs at the right time.
CHC will also be arranging a trip to Brussels at the first opportunity, an expensive but necessary undertaking and a worthwhile investment when it comes to engaging with new MEPs. We need your support to ensure that we can get to the heart of Europe and make sure that big business don’t have it all its own way – you can help by going to www.consumersforhealthchoice.com and donating.
Right now in Brussels there are a huge number of new MEPs with little or no knowledge of your concerns and your sector, but with enormous power to change it. Either the other side puts its spin on the natural products industry or we make that effort now. We may not get another chance – it is in your hands.
This article first appeared in Natural Products News.