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Melody Chandler and Corinne Chin/MEDILL


Chicago entrepreneur Karyn Calabrese spoke with Medill Reports on Tuesday, as SB 2936 was being considered in the Illinois House of Representatives. She owns three restaurants, a wellness center and a health food store. Health food store employees can still offer nutrition advice about their products under the bill that passed late Wednesday. But Calabrese said the detoxification classes she has offered for more than 20 years would be in jeopardy under this mesure.

Controversial bill sets penalties for unlicensed alternative health practitioners in Illinois

by Melody Chandler and Corinne Chin
Dec 06, 2012


Corinne Chin/MEDILL

Although Karyn Calabrese's health food store will be exempted from SB 2936, she says her detox classes will be negatively affected by the bill's passing.

Senate Bill 2936 passed both houses of the state legislature late Wednesday, and it will increase fines for non-licensed health practitioners offering nutritional counseling.

Herbalists, homeopaths, naturopaths and others will need to be licensed by the state if they want to provide nutritional counseling or dietetic services.

The bill updates the Dietetic and Nutrition Services Practice Act, which was set to expire December 31. The current law has been in place for 10 years.

The most notable change to the law lies in punishment for unlicensed practitioners. Beginning in 2013, penalties will increase. Fines can be assessed up to $10,000, which brings the law in line with other licensing bills in the state of Illinois. However, health food stores are exempt and employees can provide advice about their products.

The alternative health community is concerned that the bill does not address health freedom of speech. Activists tried to lobby for an amendment that would allow nutritional counseling by non-licensed individuals, as long as they did not claim to be a dietitian or nutritionist.

“A lot of citizens have holistic natural health care practices that talk about nutrition—the life coaches, the herbalists, the naturopaths, the homeopaths,” said attorney Diane Miller. “The fact that the dietitians are saying only they can recommend anything about nutrition is just ludicrous. The freedom of speech issues in this licensing bill are just huge for citizens.”

Last week, Miller, the director of law and public policy for National Health Freedom Action, worked with a grassroots group of Illinois residents. Illinois Citizens for Health Freedom lobbied for the health freedom of speech amendment. However, it was not added by the state senate or house before the bill passed.

“We began to learn how to lobby and how to speak to our legislators. It opened our eyes as to how a bill can easily go through without us being vigilant and paying attention,” said registered nurse Dorothy Chandler, president of Illinois Citizens for Health Freedom.

Chandler, who also practices colon hydrotherapy, said the bill inhibits her ability to provide nutritional counsel as a hydrotherapist, outside the scope of her nursing. She said she is also concerned about other practitioners.

“I was thinking today about the people in Chinatown who do assessments. Culturally, that's what they do,” Chandler said. “They provide a dietary program and herbs for you to purchase. By the way the law is written, those people will be in jeopardy.”

Some people, such as Darrell Rogers, feel that SB 2936 is an improvement compared to the old law.

Rogers is the campaigns and communications director for the Alliance for Natural Health USA, a not-for-profit organization that provides advocacy for alternative health.

He said that, although SB 2936 is not perfect, it would be a mistake to “make perfection the enemy of the good.”

Rogers said that Alliance for Natural Healthy USA worked closely with the sponsors of SB 2936 and the regulatory department to revise the bill.

“The folks that are unlicensed practitioners, nothing has really changed with them with this bill. Exemptions are increased for health food store employees. This bill highlighted how bad the current law was.”

State senator Iris Martinez, the lead sponsor of the bill, said she is concerned about public safety.

“I sponsored SB 2936 because I believe an appropriate regulatory framework for the dietetics and nutrition field is in the public interest,” Martinez said. “This measure is designed to assure that dietetic and nutrition services are available to Illinois consumers in a safe and responsible manner.”

Martinez also said that some aspects of the existing law had been relaxed. For example, a revision allows degreed nutritionists, in addition to registered dietitians, a pathway to licensure in Illinois.

The Illinois Dietitian and Nutrition Board will also include non-dietitians.

Now that the bill has passed the Illinois legislature, Chandler hopes to begin work on a Safe Harbor bill.

“Ten thousand dollars is pretty hefty when you're thinking about someone who may make $30,000 a year,” Chandler said. “Those businesses will close, and where will those businesses go? We’ve got high foreclosures and we have got high unemployment, and we don’t want to continue that.”

A similar Safe Harbor bill is already in the works in Ohio, after many alternative health practitioners ran into challenges there.

Herbalist Susan Gingerich said she is very careful about speaking on nutrition in Ohio, especially after a hearing was held for non-dietitians in December 2011.

“Eighty-nine people had to hire a lawyer, spending between $5,000 and $25,000 each. It’s a ridiculous thing to have a witch hunt,” Gingerich said.

“While some believe the field of dietetics and nutrition should be entirely unregulated, Illinois joins most states in the view that appropriate regulation is in the public interest,” said Martinez.

Despite the bill’s passage, Miller says she is still an advocate for health freedom of speech.

“To have a gag order on anyone that’s unlicensed—that’s just plain un-American,” Miller said.