“Three out of six herbal products at Target — ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and valerian root, a sleep aid — tested negative for the herbs on their labels. But they did contain powdered rice, beans, peas and wild carrots.”
The New York State Attorney’s office has issued cease-and-desist letters to Wal-Mart, GNC, Target, and Walgreen’s for selling herbal supplements that barely contain any of the herbs they claim to supply and instead have undisclosed amounts of wheat, bean, mustard, and radish additives as filler instead. Many individuals are allergic to wheat and beans as well as other additives found to be in these products.
New York State authorities discovered the problem by conducting a series of tests on the herbal offerings of each retailer using DNA markers to identify the herbs each bottle supposedly contained. The findings are beyond borderline and may indicate a wholesale attempt to defraud customers through purposeful mislabeling.
The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.
“If this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry.”
Below is a brief sample, via the New York Times article, of what the state’s testing revealed about each retailer.
Three out of six herbal products at Target — ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and valerian root, a sleep aid — tested negative for the herbs on their labels. But they did contain powdered rice, beans, peas and wild carrots.
…at GNC, the agency said, it found pills with unlisted ingredients used as fillers, like powdered legumes, the class of plants that includes peanuts and soybeans, a hazard for people with allergies.
Among the attorney general’s findings was a popular store brand of ginseng pills at Walgreens, promoted for “physical endurance and vitality,” that contained only powdered garlic and rice.
At Walmart, the authorities found that its ginkgo biloba, a Chinese plant promoted as a memory enhancer, contained little more than powdered radish, houseplants and wheat — despite a claim on the label that the product was wheat- and gluten-free.
The full text of the Attorney’s General report can be found at documentcloud, here. The U.S. supplement industry is almost wholly unregulated, relying primarily on an honor system for quality control.
If you’re interested in more information, below is a 2013 Dateline investigative report on the U.S. supplements industry.