In the wake of a scandal which found that herbal supplements such as ginseng and valerian root sold at major retailers contain cheap fillers such as wheat and soy, Pennsylvania-based GNC has signed an agreement with the New York Office of the Attorney General to implement rigorous testing of all GNC supplements. It marks the first time that such a deal has been made, and will require the retailer to perform tests that far exceed the standards currently set by the FDA.
GNC will use DNA barcoding on all “active” plant ingredients in the products sold in their stores. Additionally, the New York Attorney General’s office explained in a press release, GNC will “implement testing for contamination with allergens, both before and after production; and post prominent signage advising consumers of the processed, chemical nature of extracts.”
A.G. Schneiderman explained in a press release “When it comes to consumer health, we expect companies to reach a high safety bar. Without tests and safeguards, including those that rule out dangerous allergens, these supplements pose unacceptable risks to New York families.” The testing will ensure the safety and quality of herbal supplements throughout all of GNC’s 6,000 stores within the next 18 months.
Moreover, GNC will contribute any new data that they create for plant species during the DNA barcoding process (a process which was used by the A.G.’s office to determine the contamination prevalent throughout existing supplements) to a publicly accessible database. This will, all being well, help other retailers to efficiently conduct the same analysis on their supplements.
When—and if—other retailers will be required to conduct analysis of their herbal supplements is still up in the air. GNC is is the first to come to an agreement with the New York A.G., but Target, Walmart and Walgreens were all also found to be selling tainted, if not down right fraudulent supplements in their stores. Upon the release of the A.G.’s findings earlier this year, Walgreens pulled all supplements, while Walmart claimed to be “working with suppliers” and Target remained silent.
As David S. Seres, M.D., Director of Medical Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center explained in a press release “When federal law prohibits the kind of regulation that we demand on all other products used for health benefits, the Attorney General’s actions represent an important step in reining in the supplement industry and assuring that the consumer can trust what is in the bottle.”
The hope now is for all other retailers to follow GNC’s lead in maintaining accountability for the herbal supplements they sell, and allowing themselves to be monitored by the Attorney General’s office while the FDA persists in permitting herbal supplements to remain an otherwise unregulated, risky market.
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