Retailers accused of selling fraudulent herbal supplements

A man leaves a GNC store, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015 in New York. Numerous store brand supplements aren’t what their labels claim to be, an ongoing investigation of popular herbal supplements subjected to DNA testing has found, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday. GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreen Co. sold supplements that either couldn’t be verified to contain the labeled substance or that contained ingredients not listed on the label, according to Schneiderman's office. “We stand by the quality, purity and potency of all ingredients listed on the labels of our private label products,” said GNC spokeswoman Laura Brophy. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Four of the nation’s largest retailers are being accused of selling herbal supplements that aren’t what their labels claim.

An investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found several supplements sold at Target, Walmart, GNC, and Walgreens did not contain any of the herbs on the label – and now he’s demanding they be pulled from shelves.

“Mislabeled supplements that are taken by the public to preserve or maintain their health pose a significant danger to those who have food allergies or who take medication,” he said.

Schneiderman said popular store brands labeled as medicinal herbs were checked for DNA genetic fingerprinting – and flunked. Walmart had the poorest showing, with only 4% of products tested showing DNA from the plants listed on the labels.

“It is a largely unregulated industry, and as a result – it is very difficult to feel confident that what you are taking is what you intend to be taking,” said Dr. Kenneth Spaeth.

Call 12 for Action reached out to all four retailers. While they all stand behind the quality of their store-brand products, Walmart, Walgreens and GNC will remove the supplements in question from all their stores in New York. Target said they will remove the supplements from stores nationwide until the investigation is complete.

The companies released the following statements:

Walmart:

“Based on the testing performed by our suppliers we have not found any issues with the relevant products, but in order to comply with the Attorney General’s request we have stopped selling them in New York. We take this matter very seriously and will be conducting side by side analysis because we are 100 percent committed to providing our customers safe products.”

For more information about standard and validated test methods of supplements, please contact:

  • Dr. Duffy MacKay, Council for Responsible Nutrition, (202) 204-7664, dmackay@crnusa.org
  • Dr. Daniel Fabricant, former Director of the FDA’s division of dietary supplements and now CEO of the Natural Products Association, (202) 204-4721, Daniel.Fabricant@npainfo.org
  • Dr. Tod Cooperman, President, http://Consumerlab.com, (914) 722-0116, tod.cooperman@consumerlab.com

Walgreens:

“We take these issues very seriously and as a precautionary measure, we are in the process of removing these products from our shelves as we review this matter further. We intend to cooperate and work with the Attorney General.”

GNC:

“We stand behind the quality, purity and potency of all ingredients listed on the labels of our private label products, including our GNC Herbal Plus line of products. The DNA barcoding technology employed on behalf of the Attorney General in testing our products has not been approved by the United States Pharmacopeia and may not be appropriate for the testing of these herbal products. GNC tests all of its products using validated and widely used testing methods, including those approved by governing bodies like the United States Pharmacopeia and the British Pharmacopeia. While we firmly stand by the quality, purity and potency of all GNC products, we will remove the product lots named in the Attorney General’s letter from our stores in New York State if required by law to comply with the binding legal authority of this order, not because we agree with the testing methods used to support it.”

Target:

“Target is committed to providing high quality and safe products to our guests. We take these claims seriously and will continue to focus on ensuring that our products meet or exceed all relevant standards.

We are partnering with our vendor to investigate the matters raised by the report and intend to cooperate fully with the Attorney General. While that investigation proceeds, Target will comply with the New York Attorney General’s request to pull these products, and will do so in all of our stores.

Please note that this only impacts the Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, and Valerian Root that were called out by the Attorney General, and was done to allow us to investigate the matter with our vendor.”

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