Not Target, not Walgreen, and not even GNC – according to the New York Attorney General’s office, which just issued a ‘cease and desist’ letter to all four major purveyors of nutritional supplements. According to a story in yesterday’s NY Times on-line health blog, tests showed that four out of five of the companies’ popular products did not contain the key ingredients listed on their labels. What they did contain was plenty of fillers – some of which were unlisted and could be harmful to consumers’ health.

Take the case of Ginseng. Walgreen’s brand, which is advertised as providing the consumer with greater endurance and vitality, contained only powered rice and garlic. Walmart’s ginseng biloba – looked upon as a memory enhancer – “contained little more than powdered radish, houseplants and wheat — despite a claim on the label that the product was wheat- and gluten-free.” Target and GNC scored no better in that they were missing the key listed ingredients but contained unlisted fillers that could trigger negative allergic reactions.

“If this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry,” said Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert on supplement safety. “We’re talking about products at mainstream retailers like Walmart and Walgreens that are expected to be the absolute highest quality.”

Walgreens promised to remove the products not only from their NY stores but all across the nation. Walmart was planning to ‘take appropriate action’ with their suppliers. The story did not mention Target and GNC’s reaction to the order.

“Mislabeling, contamination and false advertising are illegal,” said the NY State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. “They also pose unacceptable risks to New York families — especially those with allergies to hidden ingredients.” Schneiderman demanded that the companies stop selling these products and also explain the process by which they verify the accuracy of their suppliers’ claims.

Whether the supplement industry should fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA has been a contested issue. This latest incident may turn the tide in favor of the testing and review process required of pharmaceuticals. But just in case you were thinking the FDA was a safe place to invest your trust, keep in mind that its Deputy Commissioner for Food and Veterinary Medicine was formerly vice president for public policy at Monsanto Company. You may want to read about his work for Monsanto here:

So, what’s the answer? Caveat emptor is always a good guide to shopping. You can beware by staying current with the news, heightening your own intuitive discernment, and doing your best to get your nutritional needs met from the organic foods you prepare and consume.


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