Who do you trust, the New York State Attorney General or a bunch of “spokespeople” for major corporate retailers? That’s not an easy question to answer.
Last month, the Attorney General’s office sent letters to GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens directing them to stop selling a number of store brand herbal supplements that the AG had determined did not contain the labeled herbs and/or did contain contaminants, ingredients that weren’t listed. These letters also effectively reminded consumers of the necessity for buyers to beware.
Using DNA barcodes to test samples of popular herbs—such as St. John’s Wort, Saw Palmetto, Valerian, etc.— purchased in NY stores, the AG’s hired lab found that only 21 percent of the products tested actually contained the listed main ingredient, and that 35 percent of them were contaminated.
The company responses were basically the same: they stood behind the quality and purity of their products, would initiate their own investigations and would grudgingly take the supplements of their shelves until the matter was fully resolved.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) argued that the DNA tests employed weren’t appropriate because DNA often doesn’t get through the extraction process involved in making the supplements. Now, CRN happens to be the supplement industry’s leading trade association, but a number of the nation’s leading independent drug and supplement testers—such as Consumer Lab and US Pharmacopeia—agreed. It makes you wonder why the AG didn’t turn to these acknowledged experts in the field to begin with.
One notable point is that none of the statements from retailers that we have seen has bothered trying to refute the presence of contaminants that, after all, could have a profound effect on people with allergies or celiac disease.
So, who to believe? It has been seven weeks since the AG’s office issued its cease and desist orders, yet no additional test results have been released to the public to clarify the conflicting claims. The controversy is far from over, but for the meantime the statements of both the Attorney General and the retail giants need to be taken with a grain of salt.