14 states call for probe of herbal sup­ple­ment in­dus­try

At­tor­neys gen­eral say ‘safety and ef­fi­cacy’ of prod­ucts is ‘mat­ter of deep public con­cern.’

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By An­drew Khouri an­drew.khouri@la­times.com

At­tor­neys gen­eral from 14 states are call­ing on Congress to in­ves­ti­gate the herbal sup­ple­ments in­dus­try, fol­low­ing a re­port from New York’s top pros­e­cu­tor that al­leged many prod­ucts con­tained in­gre­di­ents that were not listed on their la­bels and that could pose se­ri­ous health risks.

The group, led by New York Atty. Gen. Eric T. Sch­nei­der­man and In­di­ana Atty. Gen. Greg Zoeller, asked Congress to give the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion more author­ity to over­see the in­dus­try.

“We be­lieve the safety and ef­fi­cacy of th­ese sup­ple­ments is a mat­ter of deep public con­cern across the coun­try. We there­fore urge you to take swift ac­tion,” the at­tor­neys gen­eral said in a let­ter Thurs­day to law­mak­ers. Cal­i­for­nia Atty. Gen. Ka­mala Har­ris was not among the 14 top state pros­e­cu­tors in the group.

The in­dus­try’s Nat­u­ral Prod­ucts Assn. char­ac­ter­ized the let­ter as “added ha­rass­ment based on science fic­tion” and said more over­sight of the in­dus­try wasn’t nec­es­sary.

“The FDA is prop­erly equipped to iden­tify and go af­ter firms that pose a threat to public health,” said the trade group’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Daniel Fab­ri­cant, who is a for­mer direc­tor of the FDA’s di­vi­sion of di­etary sup­ple­ment pro­grams.

In Fe­bru­ary, Sch­nei­der­man sent let­ters to Gen­eral Nu­tri­tion Corp., Tar­get Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Wal­green Co. de­mand­ing that they stop sell­ing their store-brand herbal sup­ple­ments.

His of­fice al­leged that 79% of prod­ucts tested from the four re­tail­ers had no DNA of the plants listed on the la­bels or were con­tam­i­nated by wheat, pine, rice, beans and other ma­te­ri­als.

Sch­nei­der­man’s testing method — DNA bar cod­ing — was crit­i­cized by the sup­ple­ment in­dus­try and out­side ex­perts.

In a set­tle­ment Mon­day, Sch­nei­der­man’s off ice cleared GNC to sell some of its most popular prod­ucts, in­clud­ing echi­nacea, gin­seng and St. John’s Wort.

State in­ves­ti­ga­tors found “no ev­i­dence” that GNC had de­vi­ated from FDA stan­dards or from stan­dard in­dus­try prac­tice in pro­duc­ing the sup­ple­ments, ac­cord­ing to a let­ter Sch­nei­der­man sent to GNC’s chair­man, Michael Arch­bold.

But the two sides con­tin­ued to dis­agree on whether fed­eral rules, which don’t re­quire DNA-based testing to au­then­ti­cate herbal sup­ple­ments, are suf­fi­cient.

GNC said its own testing had shown that its store­brand herbal sup­ple­ments were “safe, pure” and “prop­erly la­beled.”

Un­der the set­tle­ment, GNC agreed to ex­pand its testing, in­clud­ing the use of DNA bar cod­ing.

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