The head of the Natural Products Association (NPA) and the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Monday jointly backed the use of DNA barcoding technology as part of a multi-pronged strategy to ensure herbal supplements are authentic.
In cases in which DNA barcoding is available for relevant plant species, NPA and Schneiderman expressed support for testing herbal ingredients prior to them being extracted from the plant material.
"Anyone who buys an herbal supplement should be able to do so with full knowledge of what is in the product and have complete confidence that every precaution was taken to ensure its authenticity and purity," said Schneiderman and Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., executive director and CEO of NPA, in the joint statement.
The natural products industry and New York authorities have been at odds since Schneiderman revealed in February that DNA barcoding technology identified a number of supplements that failed to contain the labeled herbs and were contaminated with substances that were not listed on the product labels. Botanical experts have questioned the reliability of the technology to test botanical extracts because DNA may become lost or degraded during the extraction process. Fabricant and Schneiderman acknowledged that a single technology is inadequate to provide full confidence to consumers that herbal products are authentic and pure.
“Together, we look forward to jointly working with major manufacturers and retailers of herbal supplements to promote a model for product safety, authenticity, and transparency in this industry," Schneiderman and Fabricant said. “We view this dialogue as a positive step in resolving our differences and we are hopeful that we can work in collaboration to enhance confidence and safe access for consumers."
The joint statement was announced amid ongoing investigations by Schneiderman into three national retailers whose supplements purportedly failed to contain labeled herbs: Walmart, Walgreens and Target. In late March, GNC Holdings Inc. said it reached an agreement with Schneiderman’s office to use DNA barcoding to confirm the authenticity of all plants used for its herbal supplements products before processing. The agreement recognized New York authorities found no evidence that GNC had deviated from relevant federal regulations.
Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), said his trade organization doesn’t intend to reach an agreement with Schneiderman’s office “without a transparent and fact-based dialogue."
“While we acknowledge legitimate concerns within our industry for which we continue to seek solutions, we continue to believe that the foundation of the NY AG’s investigation is based on faulty science that does not address those problems," Mister said in a statement. “Rather, it misdirects attention toward reputable companies already in compliance with federal law and would impose additional burdens and expenses on them. We understand that individual retailers involved may need to negotiate with the NY AG in order to get their products back on the shelves. After our meeting with the NY AG’s office last month, we have chosen to stand up for the industry."
Added Mister: “CRN will continue to promote voluntary programs and mandatory federal government standards that are science-based, meaningful and beneficial to consumers, and we are open to working with those who demonstrate the desire to promote consumer health in a transparent manner."