The New York Attorney General, in 2015, accused four major retailers of defrauding the public by selling fake herbal supplements. The retailers were ordered to remove the products from their store shelves.
4 Major Chains accused of selling fake herbal supplements
Many top-selling store brands discredited
Tests showed that four out of five of the products on the shelves of GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens actually didn't contain the herbs printed on their labels. Contents consisted of fillers like rice, garlic, houseplants and, in some cases, substances that could be harmful to people with allergies. For example, one of Walmart's supplements, allegedly a Chinese plant called ginkgo biloba (sold as a memory enhancer) contained powdered radish, houseplants and wheat—despite claims that the product was wheat- and gluten-free. A Walgreens product, sold as ginseng, turned out to be just rice and garlic.
High percentage of contaminants found
The products were analyzed using DNA bar coding to identify plant content. A large number of the supplements not only showed no DNA of the herbs listed on their labels; they also showed plenty of DNA from unlisted ingredients—in other words, contaminants.
Who regulates food supplements?
The manufacturer of a food or dietary supplement is solely responsible for deciding that the product it makes or distributes is safe, and that promotional statements or claims are not false or misleading.
This means that dietary supplements do not need approval from the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) before they are marketed. According to current law, supplements are assumed to be safe until it can be proved that people have been harmed by them.
Can a dietary supplement make you seriously sick?
Yes, it can.
In 2013 an outbreak of hepatitis caused by a supplement affected 72 people in 16 states. Three people had to have liver transplants; one woman died. Recently, an infant died after being given a probiotic that turned out to have been contaminated with yeast. After the child's death, the F.D.A. issued a warning to the public explaining the limits of its control over dietary supplements. Many U.S. health experts have long felt that the quality and safety of dietary supplements have suffered from a lack of stricter regulatory oversight by the F.D.A.
Unless and until supplements are subject to the F.D.A.'s premarket approval for safety and effectiveness, we should be extremely careful when choosing our dietary supplements.