Joseph M. Bassett, a longtime leader in the natural products community who encouraged natural health consumers and members of the dietary supplement industry to work toward the passing of the Dietary Supplements and Health Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), died June 6, 2012, from complications related to a bladder and kidney infection.1 He was 79 years old.
During the early 1990s — a time when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been raiding alternative healthcare clinics and some health food stores, and was proposing to classify some supplements (herbs and amino acids) as drugs — Bassett helped to organize a grassroots-level battle for what its proponents called “health freedom.”1 Regulations were being proposed to give FDA broad regulating authority over dietary supplements,2 including the power to restrict what physicians and medical associations were permitted to say about the benefits of dietary supplements,3 which were at that time usually referred to as “food supplements.” Many feared that supplements would be taken off the market until being submitted to FDA and approved for therapeutic efficacy, similar to the lengthy and expensive process for pharmaceutical drugs.2
Bassett and his wife Pat owned Bassett’s Health Food stores in Ohio and Michigan — which sold dietary supplements and herbs, including several products formulated by Bassett himself. He was also trained in numerous branches of nutritional and integrative therapies.1,4 Believing deeply in the power of natural products and people’s right to have access to them, he served as the second chair of the board of Citizens for Health (CFH), a consumer-action nonprofit that played an instrumental role in lobbying Congress for the passage of DHSEA.5 The group, which also included Alexander Schauss, PhD, and the late Craig Winters, often visited Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress and their staff to discuss the consumer-oriented protections and access to supplements provided by DSHEA and to persuade them to become co-sponsors of the Act.2 They encouraged citizens around the country to become involved in supporting DSHEA by writing letters to their congresspersons.
“[Joe] was dedicated, hardworking, and willing to take risks,” said Martie Whittekin, clinical nutritionist and host of the natural health program “Radio Martie.” “I think Joe’s greatest contribution to the DSHEA fight was taking the early steps that led to the formation of Citizens for Health. CFH helped coordinate the massive outpouring of public outrage that piqued interest with legislators and gave us the opportunity to be heard, not just in offices, but in Senate and House hearings” (email, June 27, 2012).
“We have all lost a great spirit in the fight for health freedom,” said Dr. Schauss in a CFH tribute article.4 “Joe was one of those rare people you meet in life one cannot forget. His spirit and achievements will live on for eternity. He was one of the most dedicated, committed, and supportive members of the natural products community.”
After his time on CHF’s board, Bassett served as president of the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) — now known as the Natural Products Association (NPA) — from 1993 to 1995.1 During this time, DSHEA was passed by Congress without 1 dissenting vote, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 25, 1994.3
“He helped push for unity among the many factions that at one point threatened to tear the association apart,” said Whittekin, also a past NNFA president.
“What characterized Joe Bassett most during those years [were] his tireless efforts to stop those who attempted to divide the industry for their own self-serving interests, and argue for the power of unity,” said Dr. Schauss in the CHF tribute.4
Among numerous organization affiliations, Bassett went on to serve as president of the Mid American Health Association and as a member of the National Health Freedom Board, and also returned as NNFA president from 1997 to 1999. He continued to be involved with the natural products community throughout his life, hosting the talk show “Nutritionally Speaking” for many years on Toledo, OH, radio station WSPD; rejoining CHF’s board; and becoming a medicine man within the Nemenhah indigenous traditional medicine system.
American Botanical Council’s Founder and Executive Director, Mark Blumenthal — who spent his first 6 weeks of life in Toledo — appeared frequently as a guest on Bassett’s radio show over the years. “I will always remember Joe’s introducing me as ‘Toledo’s own’ when I came on his show on WSPD,” said Blumenthal. “Joe made me feel like a native son in a town about which I had no real memory. He made me feel welcome. I will always remember and honor his hospitality, positive energy, and incredible passion for good nutrition and natural medicine.”
Bassett, a Korean War veteran, is survived by his wife Pat Bassett; children Joseph Jr., Sabrina Early, and Charmaine Bassett-Trimm; 7 grandchildren; and 3 great grandchildren. His family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Joseph M. Bassett Memorial Fund of Nemenhah Press at www.nemenhahpress.com/joseph-m-bassett-memorial-fund.html.
—Lindsay Stafford Mader
1. Industry pioneer Joe Bassett dies. Natural Products Insider. June 8, 2012. Available at: www.naturalproductsinsider.com/news/2012/06/industry-pioneer-joe-bassett-dies.aspx. Accessed June 27, 2012.
2. Stafford L. Craig Winters. HerbalGram. 2009;84:76-77. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue84/article3471.html.
3. Williams L. FDA steps up effort to control vitamin claims. New York Times. August 9, 1992: Section 1 Page 1. Available at:
www.nytimes.com/1992/08/09/us/ fda-steps-up-effort-to-control-vitamin-claims.html?pagewanted=all. Accessed June 27, 2012.
4. Joseph M. Bassett Memorial Fund. Nemenhah Press website. Available at: www.nemenhahpress.com/joseph-m-bassett-memorial-fund.html. Accessed July 10, 2012.
5. In memoriam: Joe Bassett, health-freedom legend. Citizens for Health website. Available at: www.citizens.org/?p=3007. Accessed July 10, 2012.