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Major Retailers Asked To Stop Sales Of Store Brand Herbal Supplements

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Herbal Supplements Fail DNA Tests To Detect Plant Materials Listed on Labels

Los Angeles, CAFour major retailers, GNC, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens, received letters earlier this week from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office regarding the alleged selling of store brand herbal supplement products in New York that either could not be verified to contain the labeled substance, or were found to contain ingredients not listed on the labels.

The AG’s office is calling for the retailers to immediately stop the sale of certain popular products, including Echinacea, Ginseng, St. John’s Wort, and others. The letters come as DNA testing, performed as part of an ongoing investigation by the AG’s Office, allegedly shows that, overall, just 21% of the test results from store brand herbal supplements verified DNA from the plants listed on the products’ labels, with 79% coming up empty for DNA related to the labeled content or verifying contamination with other plant material. The retailer with the poorest showing for DNA matching products listed on the label was Walmart. Only 4% of the Walmart products tested showed DNA from the plants listed on the products’ labels.

Using DNA barcoding technology to examine the contents of herbal supplements, the investigation is focused on what appears to be the practice of substituting contaminants and fillers in the place of authentic product. The testing revealed that all of the retailers were selling a large percentage of supplements for which modern DNA barcode technology could not detect the labeled botanical substance.

While overall 21% of the product tests confirmed DNA barcodes from the plant species listed on the labels, 35% of the product tests identified DNA barcodes from plant species not listed on the labels, representing consumer fraud. A large number of the tests did not reveal any DNA from a botanical substance of any kind. Some of the contaminants identified include rice, beans, pine, citrus, asparagus, primrose, wheat, houseplant, wild carrot, and others. In many cases, unlisted contaminants were the only plant material found in the product samples.

The US Food and Drug Administration requires companies to verify that their products are safe and properly labeled for their contents, but unlike drugs, supplements do not undergo the agency's evaluation process, which scrutinizes everything about the drug, from the design of clinical trials to the severity of side effects to the conditions under which the drug is manufactured.

The retailers have been asked to provide detailed information relating to the production, processing and testing of herbal supplements sold at their stores, as well as set forth a thorough explanation of quality control measures in place.

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