While Congress debates such weighty matters as free trade and health care, members report that the issue generating the most mail to their offices is dietary supplements. Pending Food & Drug Administration rules would prohibit claims of health benefits for the supplements unless they are scientifically justified. So the industry has generated a flood of letters by warning that the new rules would result in popular products, including vitamins, being taken off store shelves. Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) is pushing industry-backed legislation that would effectively bar the FDA from regulating most health claims. However, two Hatch foes--Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)--are prepared to push for an alternative that leaves intact the FDA's power to restrict claims while assuring consumers that their favorite products will remain available. In a "dear colleague" letter, Waxman, chairman of a key House health subcommittee, says he'll offer a bill that "makes it clear consumers have a right to purchase any [safe] vitamin, herb, or dietary supplement." The Waxman-Kennedy approach would have little or no impact on the FDA's plans. But it might at least stanch the flow of mail.

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