NY Attorney General Targets Four Retailers and is Investigating More

In February 2015, New York Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, forced the removal of several herbal supplements from the shelves of four major retailers.  According to the Attorney General, testing of seven herbal supplements sold by GNC, Target, Walgreen and Walmart revealed that the products did not contain the named supplements, had only trace amounts of the supplements, or in some cases, contained other ingredients not listed on the label.

The testing found that the herbal supplements, on the other hand, contained other ingredients not on the label such as powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants.  In at least one instance, the supplement may actually be harmful.  For example, Walmart’s Ginko Biloba claimed to be wheat and gluten-free.  Testing proved that the supplement contains wheat in addition to powdered radish and houseplants.  At GNC, unlisted ingredients include powdered legumes which may include both peanuts and soybeans.  These may be health hazards to those with serious allergies.

This was the first time in history that retailers have been threatened with legal action for the sale of mislabeled herbal supplements.  The AG stated, “Mislabeling, contamination and false advertising are illegal. . . They also pose unacceptable risks to New York families — especially those with allergies to hidden ingredients.”

The Attorney General’s office purchased 78 bottles from 12 stores across New York.  According to the NY Times, “the agency analyzed the products using DNA bar coding, a type of genetic fingerprinting that the agency has used to root out labeling fraud in the seafood industry.”  Most of the herbal supplements tested negative, that is, they named supplement was not found at all in the product as claimed:

GNC — “Herbal Plus” brand
Ginko Biloba – negative
St. John’s Wort – negative
Ginseng – negative
Echinacea – negative
Saw Palmetto — qualified negative

Target — “Up & Up” brand
Ginko Biloba – negative
St. John’s Wort – negative
Saw Palmetto — qualified positive
Valerian Root — negative

Walgreens — “First Nutrition” brand
Ginko Biloba – negative
St. John’s Wort – negative
Ginseng – negative
Garlic – negative
Echinacea – negative

WalMart — “Spring Valley” brand
Ginko Biloba – negative
St. John’s Wort – negative
Ginseng – negative
Garlic — qualified negative
Echinacea – negative
Saw Palmetto — qualified negative

The NY AG isn’t stopping there.  By the end of February, four information request letters were sent to Pharmavite LLC, of Mission Hills, California, (Nature Made); NBTV Inc. of Ronkonkoma, New York, (Sundown Naturals, Nature’s Bounty, Met-Rx, Solgar, Vitamin World and other brands); Nature’s Way Products Inc. of Lehi, Utah, (Nature’s Way); and Nutraceutical Corp. of Park City, Utah, (Herbs for Kids and other brands).

The Food and Drug Administration does not stringently regulate herbal supplements.  It simply requires the supplements be “safe” and labeled appropriately.  Supplements are exempt from the 1994 federal law which requires a much more rigorous review of prescription drugs before approval for sale.

Using supplements that are not properly labeled can cause serious harm and even death.  In December, a child died in a Connecticut hospital when he received a probiotic supplement which when tested, was found to contain yeast.  In 2013, 72 people contracted hepatitis due to a tainted supplement.

About Goldman Scarlato & Penny, P.C.

Goldman Scarlato & Penny, P.C. prosecutes consumer class actions and represent consumers and business owners who purchased products that were misrepresented, defective or didn’t perform as advertised, or who were the victim of deceptive consumer practices. To learn more about Goldman Scarlato & Penny, P.C., please visit our website at www.lawgsp.com or contact Paul Scarlato,scarlato@lawgsp.com or Mark Goldman, goldman@lawgsp.com

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