Several states' attorneys general will work together to probe the business practices of the herbal supplement industry following a New York investigation that found problems with a number of products, they announced Tuesday.
The decision raised the ire of industry groups, which criticized New York's findings as inaccurate. Supplements are safe, useful and already subject to Food and Drug Administration scrutiny, industry groups said.
The attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Indiana and Puerto Rico plan to work together to ensure that herbal supplement makers take the steps necessary to validate their marketing claims regarding authenticity and purity, according to a news release from the New York attorney general's office.
A recent analysis commissioned by that office found contaminants, unlabeled plant species and other substances in some store-brand supplements. It also found that in some supplements the genetic material of the original plant source was either undetectable or not present at all.
“New Yorkers and consumers nationwide deserve confidence that when an herbal supplement is represented as authentic, pure and natural, it really is,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “Clearly, the questions we raised about the herbal supplements sold in New York resonate outside of our borders. By joining together … we can go further in investigating this industry and, as needed, in achieving reform.”
But industry groups panned the effort. Steve Mister, president and CEO of the trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition, said in a statement it's ironic that Schneiderman is calling for transparency “when his office refuses to release its test results and methodology, which scientists familiar with botanicals and DNA testing say is inaccurate.”
The New York “attorney general's office continues to ignore the scientific facts of his investigation, as well as the fact that botanical supplements are already properly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” Mister said. “It's unfortunate that he has pulled other states into this misguided effort, because clearly these supplements are products that consumers find beneficial. There's no safety issue that warrants this high-level investigation and misuse of taxpayers' money.”
Natural Products Association CEO Daniel Fabricant also said the tests used by the New York attorney general's office were inappropriate.
“We think this is purely politically motivated,” said Fabricant, who is also a former director of the FDA's Division of Dietary Supplement Programs. The FDA has already been active in bringing cases against supplement makers that don't meet requirements, he said. “Given the fact that the FDA has been so active, I'm not sure what the consumer benefit is of the attorneys general efforts,” he said.
Stephen Barnes, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, agreed that the testing methods used by the New York attorney general's office were flawed. Barnes served on a National Institutes of Health committee that examined the herbal supplement ephedra several years ago. Ephedra was linked to hundreds of deaths and banned from the market in 2004.
The FDA requires herbal supplement companies to verify that their products are safe and properly labeled, but they otherwise do not face the same type of FDA scrutiny as prescription drugs do.
The FDA may take action against adulterated or misbranded supplements after they reach the market, under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, a 1994 law sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a lawmaker known for his support of the nutritional supplement industry.
Dietary supplements made up more than half of FDA Class I drug recalls between 2004 and 2012. Class I recalls are for products whose use poses a high risk of serious health consequences or death, according to the New York attorney general's office.
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