The herbal supplement market has been put through the ringer. Earlier this year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, ordered DNA barcoding which resulted in the discovery that many herbal supplements did not actually contain the listed ingredients. He ordered that Wal-Mart, GNC, Walgreen’s, and Target stop selling store-brand herbal supplements that the DNA tests found fraudulent. But many in the herbal supplement industry are calling foul, claiming that DNA testing alone is inadequate for analyzing botanical products as they have undergone excessive processing. Many are calling for a retest with better scientific methods.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration generally requires companies to verify products are properly labelled, supplements are not required to go through this process. Several studies have been publicized that reveal the severe integrity issues found in the herbal supplement industry. A Clarkson University study tested hundreds of store-brand herbal supplements that supposedly treated a wide variety of issues. The study revealed that 4 out of 5 supplements contained none of the herbs listed on the labels. Another study by the University of Guelph used DNA fingerprinting and found that 33 percent of 44 supplements tested did not contain a trace of the plants listed on the labels.
The dietary supplement industry protests the use of DNA testing. The United Natural Products Alliance, a trade group, is collecting most of the supplements tested by Schneiderman and running them through five or six botanical testing labs with universally accepted methods. Mark Blumenthal of the American Botanical Council also questions the validity of the DNA testing performed by Schneiderman. He states that DNA testing is not able to accurately identify herbal extracts. He suspects that some of the supplements tested by Schneiderman were extracts.
While botanical scientists are critical of the Schneiderman studies, they still want to raise awareness about the dangerous chemicals found in many herbal supplements. Pieter Cohen, a Harvard Medical School researcher, believes that the New York attorney general is not relying on sound science to expose the true dangers found in some herbal supplements.
Schneiderman’s office stands by the validity of its DNA testing.
Last year consumers spent $23 billion on herbal supplements. But this latest news has many consumers and scientists questioning the integrity of the herbal supplements industry. Now is the time for new and independent merchants to corner the market as large supplement organizations are losing sales and the trust of their clients.