Women in Public Affairs to Know: Amanda Darlington

July 22, 2020

Pardon Our Dust

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This interview is part of a series on “Women in Public Affairs to Know,” by the McGuireWoods Consulting Women in Public Affairs initiative. To learn more about the initiative or recommend a woman for a future interview, please visit our website.

Amanda Darlington is the Director of Government Relations for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). A licensed attorney and experienced government relations professional, Amanda is instrumental in advocating CRN positions, fostering legislative relationships, establishing coalitions, and keeping both legislative offices and CRN members apprised on issues critical to the industry. She brings comprehensive state government affairs experience working with legislators, lobbyists and regulatory counsel, most recently leading University of Phoenix’s state government affairs practice. Ms. Darlington’s experience also includes serving as a Legislative Fellow in the U.S. House of Representatives and in-house legal compliance counsel for Ryder Systems, Inc. Ms. Darlington received her Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Central Florida and graduated from the University of Miami School of Law.

The interview below was conducted by Michele Satterlund, senior vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s Virginia State Government Relations team.

Question: With the on-going pandemic, are you seeing an uptick in consumer interest in health and nutrition?

Amanda Darlington: Absolutely. CRN does an annual survey every year and according to the survey, 77% of Americans take dietary supplements. Dietary supplements can be an important element of maintaining good health and wellness – and we’ve seen sales escalate fairly dramatically during the past few months as current users expand their use and new users adopt a supplementation regimen. At the same time there is greater interest in what I would call the responsible products – sold by reputable brands and reputable companies. As we’ve repeatedly cautioned, no dietary supplement can cure, treat or prevent Coronavirus, or any disease, so consumers should be wary of any product making these claims.

 Amanda with Virginia Delegate Joe McNamara

Amanda with Virginia Delegate Joe McNamara

Q: Tell me more about the increase in fraud related to dietary supplements?

Amanda: The majority of the dietary supplement industry is made up of law-abiding companies that manufacture and market safe, quality products to support the health and wellness of consumers. Unfortunately, like all industries, there are rogue players who skirt the law, but those companies and their illegal products are on the fringes – not available at mainstream and reputable retailers. CRN regularly calls out fraudulent products illegally marketed as dietary supplements, and urges FDA and FTC, the agencies that regulate the industry, to utilize their enforcement authority to get illegal products off the market. CRN is always initiating consumer education campaigns, featuring information and resources to help consumers make smart supplement purchasing decisions and always reminds the public to talk to their healthcare provider about all of the dietary supplements they take or are considering taking in the future.

Q: Can you share the top three issues that are currently keeping you up at night?

 Amanda with Abigail Omojola, Director at The Raben Group

Amanda with Abigail Omojola, Director at The Raben Group

Amanda: COVID-19, of course, because we all feel its impacts. But other issues include age restriction legislation, issues related to plastics and of course, trade issues. 

Age restriction legislation, introduced this 2020 legislative cycle around the country has the potential to significantly impact our industry. Currently, the dietary supplement industry does not have age restrictions on the usage of dietary supplements. Legislation on this issue originated five years ago in Massachusetts when a bill was introduced attempting to put age restrictions on muscle building, weight-loss dietary supplements and over-the-counter diet pills for those 18 years old and under. The supporters of the bill were attempting to draw a correlation between taking dietary supplements and eating disorders in young people. We’ve seen similar bills introduced in California, Illinois, New York and a variation introduced in New York City. With the pandemic, this legislation has mostly been tabled, but we are expecting them to come around again the next legislative cycle. We are particularly watching legislation in California.  Significantly, in California, as you know once any type of regulatory initiative passes, companies doing multistate business have to then comply with a California standard that tends to set the precedent around the country. Standards like the California Consumer Protection Act, Prop 65, and a patchwork of state regulations make multistate business compliance harder, especially when federal preemption is not something that is in play.

Another issue is plastics. As states attempt to combat plastics usage, particularly single-use plastics and proponents on the federal and state level imagine a country-wide recycling and waste management infrastructure, these conversations become very complex and potentially extremely costly  quickly. From our member company perspective, packaging concerns are the first kind of issues that come up because dietary supplements have to be packaged a certain way depending on what type of supplements they are, including temperature controls and child-proof packaging. It is much more complex than just sticking a supplement in a plastic or glass bottle. There are also consumer-marketing concerns and tariffs play a heavy role in the plastics issue, as well.

The third issue that keeps me up at night is trade. Dietary supplement ingredients are sourced and ultimately sold all around the world. Supply chain issues, especially during the pandemic, and trade barriers have certainly been issues we’ve been working hard on monitoring and reporting to various federal agencies, for our members – to ensure they can source ingredients and sell products without impediment. Farmers, manufacturers, suppliers and retailers, for example, have faced additional challenges in transporting and acquiring their products and adhering to varying state and country specific safety procedures as breakdowns in the supply chain have affected everyone. Even if products make it to their intended destination, factories and manufacturers across different states and countries are subject to varying rules and regulations due to the pandemic. Trade issues are complicated at every level of the supply chain and become even more difficult when monitoring both internationally and in the U.S. 

Q: What’s a problem-solving technique you’ve learned that has been helpful in your government relations career?

 Amanda with Brad Copenhaver, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Agriculture

Amanda with Brad Copenhaver, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Agriculture

Amanda: Communication is key, particularly in state government relations where things move so quickly during legislative sessions. It is crucial to communicate internally and externally, even if it feels repetitive because things are moving so quickly. It’s important from a credibility and accountability perspective to keep your internal team abreast of all the moves of pertinent legislation. Depending on the state, at any time, a bill can move out of a committee due to some politicking or maneuvering or some loop hole, and that bill could be voted on by the end of the day, and the next thing you know, it’s on the governor’s desk for signing.  Keeping your team and members, in the case of a trade association, informed is crucial for credibility and so no one feels blindsided when a bill is filed and moves quickly.

Q: Your career has spanned a number of industry sectors, including financial, transportation, education and now nutrition.  What advice do you have for someone who wants to change careers or switch industries?

Amanda: Skills. Writing, public speaking – whether it be lobbying a legislator, testifying at a hearing, drafting testimony, drafting legislation, building coalitions, issuing press releases, bylines, and articles, or making internal and external presentations – I have found it helpful to try on as many hats as possible at your organization or company and gather as many skills that you can and take them with you wherever you go. I think from a marketing perspective, you can say you know how to do the job you are applying for even if the job description does not exactly correlate to your previous day-to-day duties if you have the necessary skills to produce the necessary material and adapt to any new subject matter quickly and effectively. Whatever role you have, regardless of the job, your skills travel with you.  

Q: You served as the Advisory Council Governance Chair for Young Women’s Leadership Council.  Tell me about the Council and why you chose to serve?

 Amanda with YWLC

Amanda with YWLC

Amanda: The YWLC is under the YWCA National Capital Area umbrella, which is an organization that through direct service, strategic partnerships, and advocacy helps women and girls of color face barriers to personal, educational, and professional success through career training, advocacy and mentoring programs. The Council is made up of young women, ages 21-35, who are invested in empowering young women to promote racial and gender justice and achieve personal financial goals. As a member and Governance Chair of the YWLC, I collectively worked on financial empowerment, mentoring and networking programming for women and girls in the DMV area. It was a wonderful experience, getting to be hands on with that type of programming and hopefully impacting the lives of young women in our community.