Indiana joins New York herbal supplement inquiry

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Attorneys general from Connecticut, Indiana and Puerto Rico have joined New York's attorney general in an investigation of the herbal supplement industry, saying they're building on the long track record of state attorneys general upholding the rights of consumers.

"New Yorkers and consumers nationwide deserve confidence that when an herbal supplement is represented as authentic, pure and natural, it really is," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday.

The coalition's formation follows allegations by Schneiderman that DNA tests on certain store-brand supplements found contaminants but none of the herbs listed on the label. Schneiderman ordered the products off the shelves last month and requested detailed quality control information from four manufacturers.

Schneiderman's office didn't specify what action the coalition would take.

Supplement-makers aren't required to disclose to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or consumers the information they have about the safety or purported benefits of their products. The federal agency takes action only after a supplement is proven unsafe.

Schneiderman said lax oversight of supplements can have serious public health consequences, noting hundreds of deaths linked to herbal weight-loss supplements containing the stimulant ephedra before the FDA banned sale of the herb in 2004.

"The significant issues recently raised about herbal supplements are a concern that must be taken seriously so as not to further jeopardize the health and safety of people ingesting these products," Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement.

Last month, Schneiderman said DNA barcoding tests commissioned by his office on six popular herbal supplements found that of hundreds of bottles tested, 4 out of 5 contained none of the herbs listed on the labels. The supplements included ginseng, echinacea, St. John's wort and ginkgo biloba.

Consumer protection groups focused on exposing fraud in the supplement industry criticized Schneiderman's use of DNA tests without additional chemical analysis, saying many products that use extracts of a plant's active ingredients would not test positive for DNA but could still be effective. The industry leveled the same criticism.

"The NY Attorney General's office continues to ignore the scientific facts of his investigation, as well as the fact that herbal botanical supplements are already properly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration," Steve Mister, president of the supplement trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition, said via email. "It's ironic that he continues to call for transparency, when his office refuses to release its test results and methodology, which scientists familiar with botanicals and DNA testing say is inaccurate."

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