A legal ruling last week in New York City found GNC stores and three other retailers guilty of selling herbal supplements contaminated with unnamed ingredients and fraudulent labeling. As a result of the recent ruling, GNC has agreed to a massive overhaul of its quality controls and supplement testing procedures. The new controls will far exceed those in place at the federal level.
“This should be a standard across the entire industry,” Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who studies tainted supplements, said to The New York Times. “Today we finally have one first step taken by one retailer, and only after the very aggressive intervention by the New York attorney general’s office.”
The upgraded standards at GNC stores will include a number of steps to protect consumers, such as using DNA testing to prove listed plant materials are present and testing for common allergens that could put people at risk—like soy, tree nuts, and wheat. Store signage and posted statements will outline processing procedures, particularly when chemical solvents are used.
“When consumers take an herbal supplement, they should be able to do so with full knowledge of what is in that product and confidence that every precaution was taken to ensure its authenticity and purity,” New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement released Monday. “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. I urge all herbal supplements manufacturers and retailers to join GNC in working with my office to increase transparency and put the safety of their customers first.”
It’s unclear whether other retailers like Target, Walmart, and Walgreens, also included in the investigation, will improve their quality standards. As part of the investigation, officials found plant material listed on the ingredients were often not found in the product, as well, the presence of certain allergens were also detected.
GNC will also be required to provide the New York attorney general's office with a semiannual report of its testing and compliance with new quality standards.
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Image: Mike Mozart