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Lawsuits Filed Over Herbal Supplements

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Minneapolis, MNIn the wake of news that herbal supplements may not contain the ingredients their labels claim, comes news that lawsuits are now being filed against the makers of some herbal supplement products. The lawsuits follow an announcement by New York’s attorney general that at least four brands of herbal supplements carried at major retailers do not contain the ingredients listed on their labels and may carry adulterants and other undisclosed substances.

The attorney general’s warning involved GNC, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens, and alleged that some herbal supplements may not contain the active ingredients they are supposed to contain. For example, supplements called St. John's Wort were found to contain no St. John’s Wort. Furthermore, the attorney general alleged that some herbal supplements may contain fillers and other ingredients not listed on the labels, putting consumers at risk of an allergic reaction or other adverse event.

The retailers involved in the attorney general’s investigation were ordered to pull certain herbal supplements from their shelves based on DNA testing that questioned the validity of the supplements’ labels. Following that order, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman then sent letters to manufacturers ordering the manufacturers to send detailed information regarding ingredients of herbal supplements sold in New York state.

Among the manufacturers ordered to send information, according to CBS News (2/24/15), were Pharmavite LLC, Nature’s Way Products Inc., NBTV Inc., and Nutraceutical.

There are some concerns, however, about Schneiderman’s DNA testing of the herbal supplements. Critics say the DNA testing would not necessarily show the DNA of extracts used in the supplements, making further chemical analysis necessary. Information sent by the manufacturers could provide more information about what ingredients specifically are in each herbal supplement and what quality control measures the supplement makers have taken.

So far, retailers have said they stand by their products. Consumers, however, have filed lawsuits against the retailers, alleging the dietary supplements do not contain ingredients as listed on the labels. One such lawsuit was filed against Target by Joel Cohn, who alleges some supplements in Target’s “Up & Up” brand contain adulterants and other ingredients not included on the label. The lawsuit, case number 0:15-cv-00536, seeks class-action status for anyone who purchased the products between February 2009 to the present.

A motion for consolidation of Walgreens lawsuits has been filed. Court documents filed in In re: Walgreens Herbal Supplements Litigation note that there are common issues of fact in lawsuits against Walgreens. Specifically, the lawsuits allege Walgreens engaged in “deceptive and unfair conduct in the labeling, marketing and sale of several of its ‘Finest Nutrition’ herbal supplement products.”

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