According to Mr. Schneiderman’s announcement on Mar. 10, the initiative seeks to enhance transparency and ensure the herbal supplements industry is taking the steps necessary to validate marketing claims, along with authenticity and purity.
“New Yorkers and consumers nationwide deserve confidence that when an herbal supplement is represented as authentic, pure, and natural, it really is,” Mr. Schneiderman stated. “Clearly, the questions we raised about the herbal supplements sold in New York resonate outside of our borders. By joining together, and building on the long track record of state attorneys general upholding the rights of consumers, we can go further in investigating this industry and, as needed, in achieving reform. I look forward to collaborating with these partners on this vital work.”
Recent DNA barcoding analysis commissioned by the New York AG’s office alleged that some herbal products sold at GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens didn’t contain the main ingredients listed on labels, and/or contained unlabeled plant species and other “contaminant” substances.
Mr. Schneiderman issued cease and desist letters to the retailers on Feb. 2 and issued subpoenas to four product manufacturers (Pharmavite, NBTY, Nature’s Way Products and Nutraceutical Corp) on Feb. 16 requesting documentation related to standard operating procedures, quality control measures, analytical testing, label claims substantiation, and adverse event reporting.
Industry advocates have criticized the AG’s efforts and analytical techniques, saying DNA barcoding analysis is not an appropriate or validated method for identification of herbal extracts, and such methods would be insufficient to detect the precise amounts of substances permitted in products in trace amounts. Critics have also noted a lack of transparency and called for public release of testing data.
“The NY Attorney General’s office continues to ignore the scientific facts of his investigation, as well as the fact that botanical supplements are already properly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” said Steve Mister, president and CEO, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), Washington, D.C. “It’s ironic that he continues to call for transparency, when his office refuses to release its test results and methodology, which scientists familiar with botanicals and DNA testing say is inaccurate. It’s unfortunate that he has pulled other states into this misguided effort, because clearly these supplements are products that consumers find beneficial. There’s no safety issue that warrants this high level investigation and misuse of tax payers money.”
"Consumers are entitled to expect that the product they are purchasing actually contains the ingredients as listed on the label,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. “The findings uncovered by Attorney General Schneiderman raise serious public health and consumer protection concerns potentially impacting consumers in Connecticut and across the country. As attorneys general have shown time and time again in recent years, we have a strong and unique ability to work together on behalf of our respective constituencies on issues of national concern.”
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said, “The significant issues recently raised about herbal supplements are a concern that must be taken seriously so as not to further jeopardize the health and safety of people ingesting these products. As state consumer protection advocates, my fellow attorneys general and I are focused on efforts to eliminate misleading and deceptive labeling for the benefit of consumers.”
"The accuracy in the information that a label offers to consumers is sacred,” said Nery Adames Soto, the secretary of the Department of Consumers Affairs in Puerto Rico. “When is not up to par with standards, it induces the consumer to error and violates the trust between the commerce and the client. At DACO we will be rigorous demanding that the labeling reciprocates the product contents.”
Jarrow Fires Back
On Mar 6, Jarrow Formulas, Los Angeles, CA, a formulator and supplier of nutritional supplements, publicly condemned Mr. Schneiderman’s recent actions. Company founder Jarrow Rogovin stated: "Anointing himself the would-be Commissioner of the FDA, this princeling chose to meddle in matters that belong exclusively on federal turf."
He went on to call Mr. Schneiderman’s demands “baseless” and his actions an “abuse of the color and authority of his official position.” In Mr. Rogovin's view, "This AG should be compelled to resign and face state bar discipline; and if he does not start controlling himself, he is creating grounds for disbarment proceedings. His is a raw abuse of power."