New York's attorney general told four major retailers to stop selling some of their store-brand herbal supplements, saying they contained ingredients not listed on their labels and could expose some consumers to serious health risks.
Atty. Gen. Eric T. Schneiderman said Tuesday that many of the supplements sold in New York state by GNC, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens also didn't contain the ingredients they claimed to.
The attorney general said 79% of products tested had no DNA of the plants listed on the labels or were contaminated by other material including rice, beans, pine and wheat.
In letters to the retailers, Schneiderman demanded that they stop selling certain products, which include echinacea, ginseng and St. John's wort formulas. He also requested an explanation of quality control measures in place, as well as information regarding the production, processing and testing of herbal supplements sold at the stores.
"This investigation makes one thing abundantly clear: The old adage 'buyer beware' may be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Mislabeling, contamination, and false advertising are illegal."
The attorney general's office said that because many of the products allegedly failed to identify all ingredients, consumers with allergies, or those taking medication, can expose themselves to serious health risks.
The attorney general's office said it hired a DNA bar-coding technology expert to conduct the tests as part of a continuing investigation. Products tested were GNC's Herbal Plus brand, Target's Up & Up, Walgreen's Finest Nutrition and Wal-Mart's Spring Valley.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a dietary supplement trade group, criticized the testing method employed and said that manufacturing of the supplements can remove or damage DNA.
The actions by the New York state attorney general's office "smack of a self-serving publicity stunt under the guise of protecting public health," the group's president, Steve Mister, said in a statement.
Target and Walgreens said they would cooperate with the attorney general and were removing the requested products from stores while they investigate the claims further. Wal-Mart said that tests run by its suppliers found no issues with the relevant supplements, "but in order to comply with the attorney general's request we have stopped selling them in New York."
"We take this matter very seriously and will be conducting side-by-side analysis because we are 100% committed to providing our customers safe products," Carmen Bauza, Wal-Mart's senior vice president of health and wellness, said in a statement.
GNC took issue with the testing method, saying in a statement that it stands "behind the quality, purity and potency of all ingredients listed on the labels of our private label products, including our GNC Herbal Plus line of products." However, it said it would remove the requested products from New York stores "if required by law."