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Big Retailers Ordered to Stop Selling ‘Adulterated’ and ‘Mislabeled’ Herbal Supplements

The New York Attorney General’s office has ordered four major retailers — Walmart, Target, Walgreens and GNC — to stop selling “adulterated” and “mislabeled” herbal supplements that independent lab tests show do not contain ingredients as stated on the labels.

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent cease-and-desist letters Monday to the heads of 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 were also asked to provide information to the AG’s office by Feb. 9 detailing how their store-brand supplements are processed.

“Of late, 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.

“Contamination, substitution and falsely labeling herbal products constitute deceptive business practices and, more importantly, present considerable health risks for consumers,” it continued.

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.

Schneiderman said that 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.

“Based on this notice, we are immediately reaching out to the suppliers of these products to learn more information and will take appropriate action,” a Walmart spokesperson said.

Walgreens agreed to remove the products from its stores across the country, even though only New York was requiring it to do so.

GNC indicated those particular products had been removed from its store shelves, but a representative said the company stands behind its supplements and that the testing methodology used by the AG’s office might not have been appropriate.

A representative of one supplement industry trade group called the DNA barcoding testing procedure “an emerging technology” which may not be appropriate for herbal products.

Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, said that herb identification using DNA testing should be confirmed with established analytical tools herbal experts use such as chromatography or microscopy.

Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, criticized Schneiderman for not giving the big retailers a chance to respond before going public with the test results, calling the move “a self-serving publicity stunt under the guise of protecting public health.”

However, some who view government oversight of the supplement industry as inadequate welcomed the AG’s investigation, the first time legal action against “deliberately misleading herbal products” has been threatened by a law enforcement agency.

“Consumers already had ample reason to doubt most of the claims made by herbal supplement manufacturers, who have precious little scientific evidence indicating these herbs’ effectiveness in the first place,” said David Schardt, senior nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But when the advertised herbs aren’t even in many of the pills, it’s a sign that this poorly regulated industry is in desperate need of reform.”

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does regulate finished dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients, the agency does not require herbal supplements to go through the same verification processes as “conventional” foods and drug products to ensure that the products are appropriately labeled and safe for consumers.

According to FDA, manufacturers and distributers of dietary supplements and dietary ingredients are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their products to make sure the meet all federal regulations, and the agency is responsible for taking action against any adulterated or misbranded dietary supplement product after it reaches the market.

© Food Safety News
  • ks

    Been buying Walmart Spring Valley garlic for about 5 years, have a bottle using now, can I get reimbursed?

    • tallen2007

      It would be worth a try! 🙂 At least it would make them aware of the problem at a local level.

      • mesie

        Apparently NY AG jumped the gun over faulty data – solvent extraction (with organic alcohols..ethanol..etc) does a great job extracting the beneficial compounds portrayed but denatures dna from the original plan making DNA testing a silly and inappropriate testing method. Clearly the NY Attorney General office didnt think this through. Since people tend to believe any negative news no matter how false they might be the damage is already done.

        • firstpersoninfinite

          How can you extract beneficial compounds while erasing evidence of DNA? What is left when you can’t find traces of the building blocks of life?

          • Tiamat333

            My thoughts exactly. How can you denature something so much it looks like the DNA of other plants, but doesn’t show any of the advertised ones? I’ll take the word of a scientist over some opinionated commenter any day.

        • Ms. Curiosity

          I’m glad you said this. I’m hopping mad as the media coverage is negatived and one sided. I’d rather take good quality herbs/supplement/vitamins than pharmaceutical companies drugs, and I do.

          • be1035

            Honestly, I would ingest as little pharmaceutical drugs or herbal supplements as possible. If you really want to try and get the vitamins and nutrients that your body needs, it’s best to try and get locally grown, organic food that has those properties. That is by far the best way to go.

        • be1035

          Do you work for the supplement manufacturers? I work at a firm that deals with regulatory compliance issues for EPA- and FDA-regulated products. No one at my company uses herbal supplements since the industry is practically unregulated. Typically, it’s a placebo pill at best, or filled with questionable/toxic ingredients at worst. Do you know how much money firms paid to lobby for these products to be reclassified as herbal supplements? And yes, most of it comes from China, which has questionable sourcing/manufacturing practices at best.

  • >>> The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often
    contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and
    houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with
    allergies…

    here’s your sign.

    I have been trying to warn folks at the FDA of this for over a
    decade.

    what about specified risk materials and mad cow disease, or better yet,
    what about chronic wasting disease cwd tse prion. what are the risk factors
    there ? are there any ? 10 to 50 year incubation period? you bet there is a risk
    factor.

    see;

    Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a contagious, fatal prion disease of deer
    and elk that continues to emerge in new locations. To explore the means by which
    prions are transmitted with high efficiency among cervids, we examined prion
    infectivity in the apical skin layer covering the growing antler (antler velvet)
    by using CWD-susceptible transgenic mice and protein misfolding cyclic
    amplification. Our finding of prions in antler velvet of CWD-affected elk
    suggests that this tissue may play a role in disease transmission among cervids.
    Humans who consume antler velvet as a nutritional supplement are at risk for
    exposure to prions. The fact that CWD prion incubation times in transgenic mice
    expressing elk prion protein are consistently more rapid raises the possibility
    that residue 226, the sole primary structural difference between deer and elk
    prion protein, may be a major determinant of CWD pathogenesis.

    snip…

    Finally, it is worth considering that if CWD were to cross the species
    barrier into humans, this transmission source might not be recognized if the
    disease profile overlapped with one of the forms of sporadic CJD reported in
    North America.

    http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/15/5/08-1458_article

    TSEs i.e. mad cow disease’s BSE/BASE and NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS

    IPLEX, mad by standard process;

    vacuum dried bovine BRAIN, bone meal, bovine EYE, veal Bone, bovine liver
    powder, bovine adrenal, vacuum dried bovine kidney, and vacuum dried porcine
    stomach.

    also;

    what about potential mad cow candy bars ?

    see their potential mad cow candy bar list too…

    THESE are just a few of MANY of just this ONE COMPANY…TSS

    DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

    FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION CENTER FOR BIOLOGICS EVALUATION AND
    RESEARCH

    TRANSMISSIBLE SPONGIFORM ENCEPHALOPATHIES ADVISORY COMMITTEE

    Friday, January 19, 2001

    snip…

    17 But I think that we could exhibit some quite

    18 reasonable concern about blood donors who are taking dietary

    19 supplements that contain a certain amount of unspecified-

    20 origin brain, brain-related, brain and pituitary material.

    21 If they have done this for more than a sniff or something

    22 like that, then, perhaps, they should be deferred as blood

    23 donors.

    24 That is probably worse than spending six months in

    25 the U.K.

    1/19/01

    3681t2.rtf(845) page 501

    http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/cber01.htm

    Docket Management Docket: 96N-0417 – Current Good Manufacturing Practice in
    Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Dietary Ingredients a Comment Number: EC -2
    Accepted – Volume 7

    http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/dailys/03/Mar03/031403/96N-0417-EC-2.htm

    http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/01/slides/3681s2_07.pdf

    see full text ;

    http://chronic-wasting-disease.blogspot.com/2009/03/chronic-wasting-disease-prions-in-elk.html

    price of prion poker goes up again with this study. I strongly urge the
    United States FDA et al to revisit their failed ruminant mad cow feed ban, where
    still to this day, the feed ban does NOT include cervids. …

    Saturday, January 31, 2015

    European red deer (Cervus elaphus elaphus) are susceptible to Bovine
    Spongiform Encephalopathy BSE by Oral Alimentary route

    http://transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/2015/01/european-red-deer-cervus-elaphus.html

    Saturday, January 31, 2015

    RAPID ADVICE 17-2014 : Evaluation of the risk for public health of casings
    in countries with a “negligible risk status for BSE” and on the risk of
    modification of the list of specified risk materials (SRM) with regard to BSE

    http://bse-atypical.blogspot.com/2015/01/rapid-advice-17-2014-evaluation-of-risk.html

    http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=APHIS-2014-0107-0003

  • Barb3000

    I don’t take herbs anymore because you really don’t know where the herbs are grown I suspect most of them come from China. Because if the company is only a distributor that sells the bottled herb in their store then they really don’t know how its ingredients are grown. Keep in mind that China is one of the most polluted countries in the world when it comes to their farm fields.

  • Evathediva

    I just bought “Spring Valley”Norwegian Salmon Oil….at Walmart…was that recalled or checked?

  • Susan Moon

    guess my concern would be for those that have allergies to wheat or what ever else they put in them for fillers

  • Tiamat333

    I had this problem with a bottle of Spring Valley Valerian Root. I’ve been using this herb for 30 years to help me sleep and can smell it’s pungent odor from across the room. The last bottle I bought had no odor to speak of, but at first I just wrote it off until I found myself waking up 4 hours later with insomnia. After working multiple 12 hours shifts on 4 hours sleep, I finally read another article about this and threw the bottle away. No more cheap store brand herbs for me.

  • BS Monitor

    FAILED TEST METHOD….Because DNA is not stable when exposed to certain chemicals, or heating and filtering much of it is destroyed in the process of making supplement extracts. Therefore, the amount of measurable DNA in the final product is minimal (trillionths of a gram perhaps) and highly fragmented. Because the DNA is so rare and fragmented, it cannot be measured accurately with DNA barcoding techniques. However there are many other validated techniques to do this type of testing that do work and were not used, why not? Unfortunately the amount of effort to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to make it.

    • Bird of Prey

      Excuse me, I know this comment is dated, but obviously your understanding surpasses mine in such matters. Being I have serious multifaceted disabling medical issues and fixed income I can not afford to waste a penny and yet need whatever supportive benefits I can obtain from supplements recommended by my medical doctor.

      My question is if the DNA is so damaged would that not negate or harm the herbs effectiveness? Maybe I am not understanding your comment, but yours is what caught my eye.

      Thank you for your time and sorry to bother you with such on a dated comment.

  • FoonTheElder

    It isn’t the retailers, it is the producers of supplements. This problem is rampant throughout the whole industry and the supplement makers have been ignored by the FDA

    • Bird of Prey

      You are right, but I would think Walmart, GNC, … etc. Have an obligation as well to confirm what they sell is as claimed, safe and not fraudulent, especially with their size, resources, power to make suppliers comply to they labeling, especially these companies named have about 80% of the US consumer market and so their impact is very substantial and significant upon the people and nation itself.

      If someone buys stolen property and then resells it, if they knew it was stolen or not, they are criminally and civillaly responxsible in most localities.

      But yes there is a systemic problem with the industry itself and I think they government has an responsibility to make sure the consumer is getting what they pay for and as well are not being harmed through adulteration or not receiving what they often are told by medical doctors to take.

      Thanks for your comments!

  • Bruce Pott

    I just talked to my Doctor concerning a blood test that showed low Vitamin D3 levels. I have been taking Walgreens brand of D3 for months and the label reads 1 capsule contains 5000 iu of D3. Because prior blood tests had showed low D3, I had upped the dosage to two capsules at 5000iu each or 10000 iu per day! It appears that the bogus product alert applies to the Vitamins labeled Walgreens finest Vitamin D3 is also BOGUS and does NOT contain minimal amounts of D3.

  • chrisbr1111

    Someone must have pissed off the FDA and didn’t line the right pockets.

  • chrisbr1111

    Of course, it is okay for Monsanto to hide ingredients in our food…. oh wait, who runs the FDA?

    • Bird of Prey

      Now they made it a Law thanks to COngresss that they can not label GMO’s, not like they want to label it and were the ones who fought to deny the consumers such knowledge and options!

  • Will spend a few more dollars.

    For all of you “Sprawl-Mart” shoppers this what you get. You wanted cheap products you got em! The yellow low price smiley face is bouncing around filling your pills with grass clippings. Choke on them you freakin cheap skates!!

    • Bird of Prey

      That is mean. While I understand your feelings and wish there were better options, but many of us have no other option. We live on fixed incomes do to illness and can not even afford the essentials often, and yet are in need of these products do to illness or foods. Most of us are not buying cheap junk to fill our homes, but are looking for basic clothing, groceries, supplements, food etc.

      I hate going to Walmart, they are too big for the disabled, no service, put small business’s out of business but we often do not have the resources to go from store to store due to lack of personal physical health and cost of transportation. Some of use drive strictly to medical appointments, once a week for food and maybe to faith-based services when we feel up to it and can afford it.

      It is not by choice to be poor or to only be able to afford Walmart, we are stuck and know it is crummy reality, but eating crow is the only option we have.

  • alissa

    How is this not straight FRAUD?

  • Lori Ann

    Cvs just pulled them off the shelves to not we aren’t allowed to sell them

  • Bird of Prey

    I wonder if getting the Herb from the food section and filling your own capsules for the herbs you can do such with is a way around the expensive pharmaceutical grade supplements which are very expensive, especially for people who are low income or in fixed incomes and already having problems with necessities and medical bills.

    Many herbs that doctors recommend are not to some peoples pallet and as well many people who need the herbs have medical disabilities that making cooking a real issue since they have chronic exhaustion and chronic pain so must use precooked foods like chicken breast that can be nuked.

    • Tiamat333

      Sorry to hear about your chronic & debilitating illnesses. I’ve been using a True Source Certified honey in my coffee for over a decade now and many of my aches and pains have disappeared. I also take a cinnamon with chromium capsule afterwards as honey and cinnamon are known to have synergistic effects. I know it really works too and isn’t just some urban/online myth. This may sound a bit basic, but it’s relatively inexpensive and one of the many home remedies Big Pharma would rather you remain ignorant of. Many physicians these days are just glorified salesmen for Big Pharma that are pushing medications that often cause more unwanted symptoms than they purport to alleviate.

      • Bird of Prey

        Thank you very much. I did know of the Honey and Cinnamon’s synergistic aspects but not Chromium aspect. I need to try that since chronic pain is one of my issues and is manifested from differing causes. Been using turmeric, suppose to help with general inflammation and some cognitive issues.

        Doctors, ugh! I have heard them brag between each other when they did not know I was not a peer about how they escaped nutrition, was thinking you escaped nutrituin? Most MD’s already get virtually no nutritional education already, skipping out on that alone is sad and the mindset of somehow that made them better because of it was sadder. Yes, you are 100% right about them being no more than drug pushers and many who just guess at that.

        I have had them tell me I had to do this or that, I have reminded more than one doctor they were only Practicing Medicine and did not know it, we all were very different in how we respond as well at this point in life I do not have to do anything but die since my income is below the taxable limit. Some dealt with it well and others we parted respectfully and one went juvenile on me, just looked at him and said thank you, better to know now before I am layed up in a hospital bed at his mercy down the road. – LOL

        Thanks for the reminder on the Honey, Cinamon and Chromium!

        Warmest regards