Yesterday the New York Attorney General reported the results of its tests on herbal supplements purchased at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart:
The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.
You read that right. Houseplants.
Also, wheat in ginkgo biloba supplements labeled wheat- and gluten-free. But no ginkgo biloba, obviously.
How did this happen?
The F.D.A. requires that companies verify that every supplement they manufacture is safe and accurately labeled. But the system essentially operates on the honor code.
So the system is working exactly as you’d expect when you let companies police themselves. The New York Times did not get a comment from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the supplement industry’s best friend in Congress, but it did point out that he has “accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the industry and repeatedly intervened in Washington to quash proposed legislation that would toughen the rules.”
No need, obviously. Except of course that consumers don’t have access to the sort of DNA fingerprinting technology that would allow them to analyze these herbal supplements themselves.