retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Associated Press reports that three weeks after the New York Attorney General ordered four major retailers in the state - Walmart, Walgreen, Target and GNC - to remove from their shelves certain herbal supplements that the AG said were mislabeled, four supplement manufacturers have received letters demanding "detailed ingredient and quality control information on every herbal supplement they sell in New York state."

"The scientific community, public health officials, and others have raised serious doubt about the steps taken to ensure the safety and efficacy of the herbal dietary supplements taken daily by millions of Americans," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in his letter. "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."

The AP says that none of the companies have yet responded to the AG's letter.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the supplement industry, and only is able to step in when products have been demonstrated to have caused some level of harm at a statistically meaningful level. The AP writes that "there is no regulation that requires a firm to disclose to FDA or consumers the information they have about the safety or purported benefits of their dietary supplement products. The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the ingredient list is accurate. The FDA can take action against supplements only after they are proven to be unsafe."

Supporters of the herbal supplement industry have questioned the methodology used in the testing of the supplements by the AG's office and the credentials of the testing facility used by the AG. At some level, the criticisms have suggested that current testing procedures are simply unable to make a scientifically accurate assessment of what is actually in herbal supplement products.
KC's View:
As I've said here before, my instinct is that the criticisms of the herbal supplements is probably on target, and I'm skeptical of the defenses, especially because they are offered mostly by folks who have an economic reason for believing or hoping that the industry can get through this unscathed. I could be wrong, but that's the way I'm leaning ... and if the AG is proven to be wrong, I'll cheerfully concede my mistake in judgement.

One thing seems clear. The AG is not being intimidated by criticisms of the testing, and has decided to keep moving forward.