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New York Attorney General Orders Four Major Retailers to Stop Selling Fraudulent Herbal Supplements

Feb 5, 2015

New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman has accused national retailers GNC, Target, Walgreens and Wal-Mart of selling fraudulent dietary supplements. The products either do not contain the herb listed on the label or are contaminated with unlisted ingredients, including potential allergens.

The attorney general’s office sent cease-and-desist letters to GNC, Target, Walgreens and Wal-Mart, demanding that they stop selling a number of dietary supplements, the New York Times reports. Testing showed the products often did not contain the herbs listed on their labels and many of the supplements included possible allergens not identified in the ingredient list. "Contamination, substitution and falsely labeling herbal products constitute deceptive business practices and, more importantly, present considerable health risks for consumers," the letter said.

Investigators tested supplements claiming to contain seven different herbs: echinacea, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort and valerian root. All but five of the products contained DNA that was either unrecognizable or from a plant other than what the product claimed to contain, the Times reports. Five of the products contained wheat and two contained beans, but these potential allergens were not listed on the labels.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates ingredients in dietary supplements but supplements do not fall under the same regulations as drug products and supplements do not require approval before entering the market. The FDA can take action against manufacturers whose supplements contain hidden drug ingredients or do not contain the type and amount of an ingredient listed on the label. "Mislabeling, contamination and false advertising are illegal," Schneiderman said, according to the Times. These supplements also pose "risks to New York families — especially those with allergies to hidden ingredients."

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