The New York State Attorney General recently accused four major retailers, including GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart of selling fraudulent store brand herbal supplement products.
The press release issued by the State Attorney General’s office announced that cease-and-desist letters were issued to GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart, calling for the retailers to immediately halt the sale of many popular store-brand supplement products, including Echinacea, Ginseng, St. John’s Wort, Ginkgo biloba, and others. The letters were issued following DNA testing that found only 21% of the popular store-brand supplements contained DNA matching the products listed on the supplement labels.
The investigation, conducted with the help of DNA barcoding technology expert Dr. James A. Schulte II of Clarkson University, analyzed six popular herbal supplements from each of the four major retailers. The DNA tests were conducted on 3-4 samples of each product from each retailer.
Of the major retailers, Walmart products tested the poorest, with only 4% containing DNA of the plants listed on the product labels. Only one garlic product bottle and one saw palmetto product bottle identified minimal amounts of garlic and saw palmetto, respectively. Furthermore, 35% of the tested products from all four major retailers contained contaminants and fillers not included on product labels, including pine, citrus, primrose, wild carrot, wheat, and others.
The New York Attorney General’s investigation follows a study conducted by the University of Guelph in 2013 which also found contamination and ingredient substitutions common. However, some organizations, including the American Botanical Council, have publically criticized the limitations of the DNA testing technology and are calling for additional testing to confirm the initial findings.
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