General Merchandise/HBC

AGs Continue Scrutiny of Herbal Supplements

Letter asks congressional leaders to consider more robust oversight by FDA

NEW YORK -- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York and Attorney General Greg Zoeller of Indiana have announced that they are leading a bipartisan group of 14 attorneys general calling on congressional leaders to launch a comprehensive inquiry into the herbal supplements industry.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman herbal supplements (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Gas Stations)

The group has sent a letter asking for Congress to consider a more robust oversight role for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regarding herbal supplements. The letter follows the state of New York's investigation that raised serious concerns about the marketing and safety of these products, which are regularly consumed by millions of Americans.

"When consumers take an herbal supplement, they should be able to do so with full knowledge of what is in that product and confidence that every precaution was taken to ensure its authenticity and purity," said Schneiderman. "My office's investigation reaffirmed longstanding concerns about the herbal supplements industry. The millions of consumers who take herbal supplements deserve to know whether they are getting what they pay for, and that these products are properly labeled and safe."

Zoeller said, "My focus is on ensuring the best consumer protections for dietary and herbal supplements, and eliminating potential false or deceptive labeling that could be harmful to consumers. My fellow attorneys general and I are urging Congress to consider stronger federal oversight of the herbal supplements industry so that members of the public have full information about a product they are ingesting."

The multibillion dollar herbal supplement industry is built on the promise that its products will improve the health and well-being of those who use them, the AGs said. Yet, the New York investigation has raised serious concerns about the marketing and safety these products, they said.

Recent tests conducted by the New York AG's Office of popular herbal supplements showed that products were contaminated with allergens, off-label plant species and other potentially dangerous substances, Schneiderman claimed. Some products were so thoroughly processed that the genetic material of the original natural plant source was unrecognizable, he said. Other research has suggested that some herbal supplements have been found to contain high levels of heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic, according to the AG. One study even found that a popular herbal supplement designed to reduce menopause symptoms may have caused severe liver damage in certain women, he alleged.

The letter to Congressional leaders is co-signed by Attorneys General George Jepsen (D-Conn.), Karl Racine (D-D.C.), David M. Louie (D-Hawaii), Lawrence Wasden (R-Idaho), Greg Zoeller (R-Ind.), Tom Miller (D-Iowa), Jack Conway (D-Ky.), Maura Healey (D-Mass.), Jim Hood (D-Miss.), Joseph Foster (D-N.H.), Eric Schneiderman (D-N.Y.), Joey P. San Nicolas (D-Northern Mariana Islands), Kathleen Kane (D-Penn.), and Peter Kilmartin (D-R.I.) and urges congressional subcommittees to act in concert with the FDA to address the following issues:

  • The adequacy and effectiveness of existing quality assurance measures for verifying the source, identity, purity, potency, and quality of ingredients and fillers.
  • The adequacy and effectiveness of existing regimes for verifying the identity, composition, purity, potency and quality of the finished products sold by domestic manufacturers and retailers.
  • The degree to which product labels and marketing, including the use of the terms "natural," "herbal" and "extract," mislead consumers about the contents of herbal and dietary supplements, and whether the FDA should develop standards and restrictions governing their use.
  • The extent to which Congress should mandate or direct the FDA to develop enhanced, uniform, industry-wide quality assurance and verification regimes to guarantee the source, identity, purity and potency of materials incorporated into herbal and dietary supplements.
  • The extent to which Congress should mandate or direct the FDA to develop enhanced manufacturing and supply chain management requirements for the industry to guarantee the safety and efficacy of the finished herbal and dietary supplements.

In February, Schneiderman asked several major retailers to halt the sale of certain herbal supplements following DNA tests that failed to detect plant materials listed on the labels of the majority of products tested. Earlier this month, Schneiderman announced the formation of a multi-state coalition as part of an expanded probe of the herbal supplement industry.

Earlier this week, Schneiderman announced an agreement with GNC to implement landmark reforms for herbal supplements. Under the agreement, GNC, one of the nation's largest supplement retailers, will use DNA barcoding to authenticate plants used in supplements and adopt new testing standards to prevent contamination. The move is designed to improve transparency for consumers and is a first step towards ensuring greater consumer safety, he said.

Click here to view a copy of the letter sent to congressional leaders.

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