Attorney General Investigation: Major Retailers Selling FAKE Herbal Supplements


10500918_sRecently, the New York State attorney general’s office ran a shocking investigation on medicinal and herbal supplements being sold in four major retailers, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens and GNC. When tests were conducted on the top selling store brands of herbal supplements such as St. John’s Wort, gingko biloba, valerian root and ginseng, the results came in that these products were void of the herbs listed on the bottle labels. Additionally, the tests found these products to be full of cheap fillers and other substances not listed on the labels.

The investigation was initiated following a 2013 article from the New York Times that put the spotlight on fraudulent labeling practices that are rampant in today’s multi billion dollar supplement industry. The article pointed out Canadian DNA research on 44 different best selling supplements sold by 12 different companies, which resulted in the discovery that many of those supplements were falsely labelled, often diluted, and filled with cheap ingredients. This raises huge health and financial concerns for the billions of consumers taking these fake supplements and believing they were getting what they were paying for.

Using the same DNA barcoding process that the Canadians used, the New York attorney general’s office was able to uncover individual ingredients using “genetic fingerprinting”. Here are some of the highlights from the investigation:

-Out of the herbal supplements tested, it was found that all the products except 5 contained DNA that was either from a different plant than what the product claimed was in it, or was unrecognizable altogether.

-Perhaps more alarmingly, several of the products tested contained UNLISTED ingredients that are known to cause allergic reactions in certain individuals – such as wheat and beans.

-Out of 6 supplements tested from Walmart, NONE of them were found to contain the ingredient on the label.

-Most of the supplements were made largely from fillers.

-Out of 6 supplements tested from Target, only one tested positive for the ingredient listed.

If this data is accurate, this is a shocking and devastating blow to the industry as well as to trusting consumers who are being duped left and right.

As a result of this investigation, the attorney general has issued cease-and-desist letters to the four retailers, demanding that the stores take action to clarify their procedures used to determine the ingredients in these supplements. In response, Walgreens and GNC have stated that they will address the issue appropriately, and Walgreens has plans to remove these products from the shelves in the near future. Target has not given any public comments.

This should serve as an important reminder to be extra cautious when purchasing supplements, and only buying them from sources with quality you can truly trust. The burden is now on the shoulders of the supplement industry to verify and prove their quality and honesty.

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Sarah P

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