Jim Turner, Esq., certainly qualifies as one man who has made a huge difference. As co-founder of the law firm Swankin & Turner, Jim has appeared before every major consumer regulatory agency, including the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Product Safety Commission and Federal Trade Commission, as well as the Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health. He was lead attorney on a successful petition to the FDA that made the importation and use of acupuncture needles legal in 1996. He has represented scores of private clients and served as special counsel to Senate committees—and most of all, he has doggedly followed the decades-long struggle between the FDA and the dietary supplements industry. As Chairman of the Board of the consumer-advocacy group Citizens for Health, Jim is one of our leading private-sector watchdogs. — J.D.M

How did you get into this line of work?

In 1966 and ‘67 I was in law school, taking a class on auto safety, and each of us was assigned a role to play. One of us was the head of General Motors, one was Senator Magnuson, and so forth. I happened to be Ralph Nader.

Our job was to read everything written by and about our character and then present a written brief on our position on auto safety, followed by a day-long “Auto Safety Summit” where we all assembled in a courtroom and presented our arguments orally.

As I studied what Nader had to say, I realized that he was not primarily making a point about the auto industry. The point he was really arguing was that corporations were making the decisions for American society, yet they were not democratically accountable.

After I finished that course, I tried for a year to connect with Ralph Nader. I sent him résumés and called, but I couldn’t get him on the phone. Finally, in March of ’68, I drove to Washington and met with him in person, and ended up working with him for a little over three years.

What did you say when you finally met him?

I told him what I saw as his real point: that we are no longer involved in the decisions that affect us. He said, “What would you do about it?”

I replied, “Well, if you’re right, then any other area that’s dominated by large corporate interests would have the same problem. So you should do studies on other industries and see if you find the same phenomenon.”

He said, “What industry would you look at?”

We kicked this question back and forth for a while. I was personally interested in food, so I said, “What about food?”

And he said, “Food—that’s great, I was a cook in the army for six months!” [Laughs]

I started a group with a few dozen science and medicine students and we took a thorough look at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Our findings turned into a book called The Chemical Feast—which ended up selling over a million copies. That launched all the activities I’ve been involved in ever since. In 1973 I opened the law firm Swankin & Turner, which is still going strong today.

I gather consumer-advocacy is the firm’s focal point?

It’s the backbone of everything we do. We also see small businesses as being part of what is fundamentally a consumer expression, so we do a lot of work for small businesses and non-profits, helping them incorporate, representing them with regulatory agencies, and so on.

We also represent a lot of doctors, dentists and other health care professionals, especially those who are doing things with unconventional, complementary or alternative types of health care.

I’ve also been on the board of Citizens for Health for about ten years and have been chairman of the board for about six years. Citizens for Health was founded in 1993 as an outgrowth of a battle I had been involved in for years, which is the effort to stop FDA from limiting or banning dietary supplements.

Which they’ve been trying to do for some time.

The FDA has been trying to restrict the dietary supplement marketplace since 1941.

When the Food & Drug Act was passed in 1938, the FDA was given authority for the very first time to require that drugs be reviewed prior to marketing. This was, to some extent, a sound action at that time.

In 1941, the FDA tried to extend this authority of prior review to dietary supplements. They took an action against Quaker Oats, saying they could not add vitamin D to farina. This went all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the FDA’s argument: vitamin D was a food additive that had not been proven safe by the FDA. This set the stage for a severely restrictive food supplement business.

And at this point the very concept of vitamin and mineral supplementation was in its infancy.

That’s right. Some major discoveries of vitamins and minerals had happened in the late twenties and thirties, and we were just starting to integrate them into our food supply.

Faced with this restrictive FDA initiative, the nutrient production industry evoked a section of food and drug law called Foods for Special Dietary Uses. Rather than put their products into foods as fortification (which the FDA would now be able to restrict), they began making free-standing dietary supplements, which is how that industry was really born.

The FDA tried to close off that avenue, too, but the courts told them they couldn’t stop people from eating dietary supplements unless they first establish a food standard for dietary supplements—which would require a hearing where both sides of the argument could present evidence.

After a long battle, in 1972, the FDA came out with a set of very restrictive rules—and eleven supplement industry and consumer groups took them to court.

And here you were, just having finished The Chemical Feast.

I represented one consumer group. And we won our case. In 1974, the judge ruled that the FDA’s regulations had been improperly promulgated and sent them back to the FDA for further work.

At that point, William Proxmire got involved. Proxmire was a widely respected Democratic senator from Wisconsin who was keenly interested in dietary supplements. He was a devoted dietary supplement taker who lived to age ninety.

Proxmire teamed up with Florida Congressman Paul Rogers, who was in charge of the Health Subcommittee in the House, and the two of them put forward a bill that specifically said dietary supplements were not food additives. The Proxmire Bill resulted in a restriction on the FDA from limiting dietary supplements in the way that they had been proceeding.

They restricted the restricters!

Exactly. I got involved with this legislation, and supplement consumers generated about a million letters to Congress. The bill passed with a 90 percent vote in the Senate and a similar vote in the House. The FDA withdrew their regulation completely and stopped trying to regulate supplements in that way—and that bill really launched the new dietary supplement marketplace, which began expanding strongly from then on.

In 1975 the FTC tried to ban the words “organic,” “natural” and “health food” from all commerce. I represented consumers in that fight too. If the judge hadn’t ruled in our favor, there’d be no organic food industry today. Imagine how restricted the natural food world would be if they couldn’t use the words “natural” and “organic”!

And then it came up yet again in 1993.

That’s right: the FDA posed another really restrictive piece of legislation. The effort to stop them was what launched Citizens for Health. This time consumers ended up generating almost three million letters to Congress—the largest number of letters Congress has ever received on any single issue all at once.

That legislation was turned into a positive force for the industry. The Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act of 1994 was signed by Bill Clinton on October 1, 1994 and overwhelmingly passed both houses of Congress, and that has become the backbone of the dietary supplement industry today, which some estimate as being in excess of $40 billion.

In 1982, John Naisbitt’s megahit, Megatrends, quoted you as saying, “Consumerism is the economic expression of the American Revolution.” My recollection is that in 1982, consumers largely believed what they were told.

For there to be a truly democratic society, the independence of the consumer (which includes small businesses) and the independence of the voter are both vitally necessary. If you control the consumer, then you don’t have free economic expression from the individual citizen. And that leads us to a lot of problems: bad cars, bad health care and bad food.

Consumers operate out of a system that is largely subconscious. They go to the store and take five seconds to make a buying decision.

Now, as a purveyor of food, you could use that five seconds to provide information that would be valuable, supportive and useful for the consumer’s health—or you could use that five seconds to manipulate him or her into buying something that will earn you a high profit. Well, the food industry manipulated like crazy, and it’s still doing it today.

In this long journey, you must have rubbed shoulders a good deal with the network marketing profession.


What is your view of where this business stands right now in its development?

I think it’s still in its early stages of evolution. I’ve looked at probably a hundred multilevel marketing companies, participated briefly in a handful, primarily as a learning experience, and I have friends who are very deeply into the community.

The significant thing that people often miss about network marketing is that it’s in the vanguard of a major consumer movement, in which consumers and producers are merging and becoming the same thing.

Alvin Toffler writes about how in industrial society, production and consumption were split apart, but as we’ve moved into an information society, we’re seeing that the people who produce something are more often also the people who consume it. Toffler calls this new role a “prosumer,” a person who is both the producer and consumer of a product, and he has interesting statistics to back up his point.

In a way, multilevel marketing companies are the first generation of prosumers, because the marketing network is also the customer network.The regulators were very upset about that for a long time and tried to stop it.

They were requiring us to show that 70 percent of our purchases were sold at retail, blah, blah, blah.

Exactly, which came out of a clear misunderstanding of the way history is moving. It’s actually like breathing: exhale, inhale. Every individual produces and consumes. The more balanced you can be in production and consumption, the better your life is. And the more people who are balanced that way, the better the society is.

Network marketing companies have a great potential here, which they can capitalize on by becoming aware of how important this production/consumption dynamic is. There are now, what, some fifteen million people in network marketing, would you say?

That’s about right, just in the U.S.—and over fifty million worldwide.

I think this is making a huge difference in terms of the maturation of what it means to be a consumer. Because you’re not simply a passive consumer any more: if you’re a “prosumer,” then you’re by definition playing a more involved role in the whole production/consumption cycle.

If you made this the leading story of what multilevel marketers are doing, it would really help fuel the further growth of the community.

The biggest problem I run into, which is also the biggest issue for the regulators, has to do with how the income opportunity is handled. Some people are led to enter the business based on the promise of making huge amounts of money. This is why we’ve seen all these restrictions about not showing checks and so on.

The truth is, if you run the system correctly, a whole lot of people do in fact make good livings. Getting that aspect of the business into shape is the single biggest thing that multilevel marketing could do right now to help advance itself.

In other words, putting out a more realistic perspective about the income potential?

Exactly. We’ve seen multilevel marketing companies where people aren’t looking to become multimillionaires but are holding out realistic expectations—and where good numbers of people are making very, very nice incomes.

If you can do that, particularly if you wrap that around the argument that these people are expressing a simultaneous production/consumption function in society, that becomes very powerful. I’d say you could have perhaps 150 million households successfully involved in network marketing, at least part-time.

David Bach talks about making an extra $500 or $1,000 a month and investing that to generate long-term security.

I think you can actually move that dollar figure up. If you run the numbers on what goes through multilevel marketing companies and how many people there are, you could probably get up into the $30,000 to $40,000 annual range pretty easily for a very large number of people, which puts you above the national mean income.

If you laid out the prosumer story as the cutting edge of the business model and had your income expectations in good shape, you could have the business produce well more than that, and have a significant number of people making a nice living at it.

You talked about manipulation in the food industry. That dynamic changes if you’re a prosumer.

Absolutely. When you’re operating in a prosumer dynamic, you start promoting genuine value. You recognize manipulation in marketing and say, “Why would I want to manipulate this guy?” Because “this guy” is myself!

You mentioned that making this “prosumer” aspect our leading story could make us a huge force in the marketplace. Can you say more about that?

People are unhappy with how they’re being treated in the health world, in the food world, with cars, everywhere. They’re ready for alternatives.

The Whole Foods chain is a very successful business, operating on the premise that the way supermarkets sell food isn’t satisfying. I’m not saying it’s the apex of success in food selling, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

In the alternative medicine world, you’ve got 150 million to 200 million people going to complementary and alternative medicine on a regular basis. Huge amounts of money are going into this system, which includes dietary supplements.

Here’s what’s really significant: these people are not only using alternative treatments, they are also doing a lot of self-help treatment. They’re saying, “I’ve got to be in charge of my health, because the existing health care system is really costly and isn’t that effective.”

An individual who says, “I can take care of my own health,” is a prosumer in the health market. Network marketers have the opportunity to say to this vast market segment, “We can provide you and your household with access to products that you might not be able to get in other places.”

And in doing so, you could easily become a significant part of the majority of households in America.

And as these 200 million people become network marketing prosumers, a certain number focus on using it to earn an income, further increasing their independence and freedom as prosumers.

That’s exactly right. If you say, “Come join us and earn a million dollars,” sure, you’ll get a certain number of people. But the average guy or gal is not waking up in the morning and saying, “What I need is to find something that will let me earn a million bucks this year.”

They’re looking for a way to make ends meet, and maybe improve their quality of life in the process. And network marketing can address both those needs.


The Next Big Issue

Three months after the DSHEA passed in ’94, the World Trade Organization came into being. Since they have a mandate to remove trade barriers and harmonize trade worldwide, this also gives them some degree of power to restrict trade. They can say, “If you’re going to sell dietary supplements in Country A, they have to be in accordance with the same rules as Countries B, C and D.” The WTO covers all types of trade; the group that has specific authority over food is the Codex Alimentarius.

The concern is that the Codex dietary supplement guidelines will cause other countries to adopt a very restrictive set of guidelines, which will put pressure on the U.S. to harmonize its rules with the international standard, resulting in our domestic access to these products being severely curtailed.

This is a legitimate concern; however, if we organize effectively and work diligently, we can overcome these forces and maintain our present health standards of dietary supplement access—and indeed, expand our standards to influence the world standard, instead of the other way around.

This is something we are closely watching and actively working on at Citizens for Health. In fact, we have launched an international campaign to make the principles of our DSHEA the global standard, and have applied for NGO [nongovernmental organization] status so that we can communicate and work directly with Codex as a participant on that international stage.

— J.T.

For more information on how you can stay informed and get involved in this effort, see www.networkingtimes.com/link/citizens