New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman expanded his weeks-long probe into dietary supplements, asking NBTY Inc. and three other companies for various information ranging from product sales to their analytical testing and correspondence with FDA.
The new requests, contained Monday in letters and first reported by the Associated Press, were made three weeks after Schneiderman’s office revealed its tests showed a number of products sold by Walgreens, Walmart, GNC and Target failed to contain the labeled herbs and were tainted with fillers and contaminants such as asparagus, beans and pine. The supplement industry has questioned the reliability of the DNA testing methodology that was used.
“Attorney General Schneiderman is committed to ensuring that the roughly 150 million Americans who use herbal supplements know what is in the products they are consuming," Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for Schneiderman, said in an emailed statement. “It‘s important for both retailers and manufacturers to verify the contents of the products they sell so consumers can be protected against deceptive claims on packaging, and against potentially dangerous reactions to undisclosed ingredients."
The AP reported the companies manufacture the herbal supplements that were sold and tested by Schneiderman’s office. Elizabeth DeBold, a spokesperson for Schneiderman’s office, declined to comment on that issue.
“We appreciate the NY State Attorney General’s office for helping to ensure that the manufacturers of supplements are accountable for the content and quality of what they are producing, and we are fully cooperating with this request for information," said Andrea Staub, a spokesperson for NBTY, in an emailed statement. “We are confident that our products meet our label claims and will gladly test any that are in question."
Schneiderman’s office also requested information from Nutraceutical Corp., Nature’s Way Products, Inc., and Nature Made. The companies did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment. Staub of NBTY said the company does not reveal its base of customers for whom it manufactures products.
‘Massive Fishing Expedition’
Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), which is testing the herbal supplements that are the subject of Schneiderman’s initial probe, characterized the expanded investigation as “a massive fishing expedition and highly disruptive to these companies’ daily operations that are all part of the clearly defined federal regulatory structure for dietary supplements."
“We continue to be mystified as to why the NY AG has chosen to do FDA’s job," Israelsen said in an emailed statement. “We regret to see this misplaced use of the AG’s time and taxpayer money, and the red tape created for reputable supplement companies that are simply trying to do the right thing."
Daniel Fabricant, executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA), questioned why New York authorities were investigating an industry that falls under FDA’s jurisdiction.
“It is perplexing as to why Attorney General Schneiderman continues to use resources to address dietary supplement matters, which do not fall within his authority and are already handled by the regulators within the federal government," said Fabricant, the former director of FDA’s division of Dietary Supplement Programs, in a statement. “The attorney general seems more motivated by generating headlines and plaintiff’s cases than by protecting the public health."
But in the recent letters, New York Executive Deputy Attorney General Martin Mack said public health officials and others have questioned the steps that are taken to ensure the safety and efficacy of herbal dietary supplements.
“As part of a broader investigation, NYAG is reviewing the sufficiency of the measures manufacturers and retailers are taking to independently assess the validity of their representations and advertising in connection with the sale of herbal supplements," Mack wrote.
Editor’s Note: For information on adulteration in botanicals, attend Ingredient Marketplace, a SupplySide event held April 7 to 9. The event will feature the panel discussion “Adulteration & Your Role in Delivering Value to Consumers" on Wednesday, April 9 just before the show floor opens. This panel will help brands examine business practices and how to align them so they can truly offer valuable finished goods to shoppers. So far, speakers include American Botanical Council (ABC) founder Mark Blumenthal, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) CEO Steve Mister, and Kleinfeld, Kaplan and Becker partner Dan Dwyer.