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Can Herbal Supplements Lawsuits Support Lack of DNA Evidence?

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New York, NYA number of herbal supplements lawsuits have recently been filed in the wake of investigations by the New York Attorney General’s office. But those claims may need to sit on the back burner while experts determine if DNA testing was the right kind for the supplements.

A recently formed coalition of State Attorneys General may need to revisit the DNA drawing board.

This latest information reported by Forbes (3/14/15) is no doubt welcoming news to Walgreens and Wal-Mart, who are selling GNC products and are facing herbal supplements lawsuits. The retail giants already began removing Ginkgo Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea and Saw Palmetto supplements from their shelves after the AG’s office sent “cease and desist” letters to them last month. Perhaps they will soon be restocking these same products…

Apparently, DNA barcoding - according to analytical testing experts - is unreliable when used to test plant and/or herbal extracts because the DNA material is destroyed or disrupted during the extraction and purification process. Dan Armstrong, a chemistry professor at University of Texas-Arlington and an expert in molecular analysis, told Forbes that there wouldn’t be much DNA in the product to begin with, and if the supplement contained purified material, such as Ginkgo Biloba, there wouldn’t be any DNA material.

Moreover, if DNA did show up, the product would be poorly made - even better news for GNC. Even though Armstrong is skeptical of the $6 billion US herbal supplement industry, he said that, “If it was a very good extract, you could conceivably eliminate all DNA. If it was a sloppy or poor extract, you might expect some DNA to leak into the extract.”

Armstrong isn’t the only expert who believes that DNA testing of botanical extracts can be inaccurate and incorrect. A white paper (March 2015) co-authored by professors at the University of California-Berkeley and British Columbia Institute of Technology, along with AuthenTechnologies and Flora Research Laboratories, said that, while DNA barcoding testing is “incontrovertible evidence for forensic investigations, medical diagnostics, and paternity testing in humans for more than two decades…it is relatively recent and far less established in its testing capabilities for botanical (herbal) supplements.”

Further, the DNA barcoding testing method “is not the most appropriate one for authenticating finished products, especially those containing botanical extracts.” GNC also had its products tested again by a third-party lab and stands by its label claims.

Those herbal lawsuits pending - at least three in Arkansas, three in the Northern District of California and several more in Ohio and Florida - might need revisiting.


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