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Herbal Supplements are Not What You Thought They Were

The New York State Attorney General’s office has accused four major retailers of selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements.  The danger of these supplements arises from the fact that they did not contain any of the herbs that the labels claimed they did.  The supplements involved contained cheap fillers, and since the labels did not reflect the true contents of those supplements, those substances could be dangerous and even deadly to people with allergies. More than half of all adults in the United States take at least one dietary supplement daily, and the industry brings in more than $5 billion a year in sales. This means that a very large amount of people have been affected by the mislabeling of supplements.

Purity of herbal supplements has been a topic of much debate among the scientific community and public health officials, all of whom have raised concerns regarding the safety of dietary supplements. After a scientific study was published questioning the widespread labeling fraud in the dietary supplement industry, the Attorney General of New York, Eric T. Schneiderman, began to investigate these claims. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates finished dietary supplement products, herbal supplements are not required to go through the same verification process to ensure proper labels are in place. That gives manufacturers and distributers of dietary supplements leeway in evaluating the safety and labeling of their products. Despite this, manufacturers and distributors of herbal supplements are prohibited from selling items that are adulterated or misbranded, and the products require notification of health problems associated with those supplements. The latest investigation of herbal supplements has led many to call for increased regulation of this industry.

The suspected supplements were tested to make sure that the ingredients on the label matched the ingredients contained within the bottles. DNA barcoding, which compares the DNA from plant material to see if there is a match, was used.  This showed that the plants within the bottles were not a match to the plants listed on the labels. This technique also showed the presence of other plants, mostly cheaper filler that companies used to save money.

Herbal supplements were tested at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart, and those tests showed that the supplements were improperly labelled and did not contain the substances that were listed on the labels. A popular store brand of Ginseng pills, promoted for physical endurance and vitality, at Walgreens was found to contain garlic and rice. At Walmart, a bottle that was supposed to contain ginkgo biloba, which is a Chinese plant that enhances memory, contained inside of it powdered radish and wheat. This directly contradicted the product’s label, which stated that the product was wheat free and gluten free.

At Target, three out of six herbal products (ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort, and valerian root) tested negative for the herbs on their labels. One of the fillers used was powdered legumes, which are similar to peanuts and soybeans and can present a hazard for people with allergies.

Earlier this month, cease and desist letters were sent to all four of those retailers, requiring them to remove all affected products from their shelves in New York stores. Walmart has stated that they will remove all such products from stores across the country.

The issue of mislabeled herbal supplements from these retailers is not limited to New York, affecting consumers as far as Arkansas and Oklahoma. Across the country, consumers have been affected by the fraudulent concealment and improper labelling of the herbal supplements, and the investigation has just begun. Letters have been sent to manufacturers in New York, California, and Utah demanding detailed ingredient lists and quality control information on herbal supplements that were sold in New York state. Additional data has also been requested to support specialty claims that have been made for various products, such as “gluten free” or “hypoallergenic”. Claims have already been filed against retailers under violations of consumer protection laws, illegal mislabeling and fraudulent concealment of products.

Clark Law Firm, PC is investigating multi-party claims on behalf of people who purchased these fake supplements and is prepared to file claims in these cases. If you have purchased herbal supplements from Walmart, Target, GNC, or Walgreens and you believe that you purchased items that were inappropriately labelled, please do not hesitate to contact the New Jersey Lawyers for personal injury at the Clark Law Firm, P.C., for a consultation. Our personal injury attorneys are well versed in the law of product liability and would be happy to work with you.


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