NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sent cease-and-desist letters to all four companies demanding that they stop selling their store-brand herbal supplements because DNA barcoding showed that 79 percent of them either didn’t contain the stated ingredient(s), or were contaminated by other filler materials such as rice and wheat to which some people might be allergic. The companies have been asked to respond by February 9, with information about how their store-brand supplements are processed, according to a NY Times report.
“The topic of purity (or lack thereof) in popular herbal dietary supplements has raised serious public health and safety concerns, and also caused this office to take steps to independently assess the validity of industry and advertising,” the letters stated, adding that “Contamination, substitution and falsely labeling herbal products constitute deceptive business practices and, more importantly, present considerable health risks for consumers.”
Tests were done at the request of the New York AG’s office on the following store-brand supplements: Ginkgo Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Echinacea, Valerian Root, Garlic and Saw Palmetto. Three to four samples of each supplement purchased in different parts of the state were tested. Each sample was tested five times, for a total of 390 tests on 78 samples.
Only 4 percent of Walmart’s supplements (“Spring Valley” brand) actually contained the ingredients listed on the label, while 18 percent did at Walgreens (“Finest Nutrition” brand), 22 percent at GNC (“Herbal Plus” brand), and 41 percent at Target stores (“Up & Up” brand). Only the GNC garlic consistently tested as advertised, according to the AG’s office.
A Walmart spokesperson has said that the retailer is immediately reaching out to the suppliers of these products to learn more information and will take appropriate action. Walgreens agreed to remove the products from its stores across the country, even though only New York was requiring it to do so. GNC confirmed that the products in question had been removed from its store shelves.
Creighton R. Magid is a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney and head of its Washington DC office, supported Attorney General Schneiderman’s actions and described that “he is taking aim at these herbal supplements not by attacking their efficacy or health risk, which would be more difficult to prove, but by alleging false labeling – something that can presumably be proved with a lab test to establish the actual ingredients.”
“Unless the manufacturers or retailers can show that the ingredients of these products are as shown on the labels – and not merely powdered versions of a junior high lunch – these products will probably start disappearing from store shelves rather quickly,” Magid added.