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Spangenberg, Shibley & Liber, LLP | Apr 16, 2015

Herbal Supplement Fraud Update

The dietary supplement industry – the folks selling everything from ginseng to fish oil to colloidal silver to bee pollen – is big business. Over $13 billion dollars of business on an annual basis. While the industry likes to imagine itself part of the “health-care” economy, there has long been debate in the popular and scientific press about whether the best-known supplements in this industry - Ginkgo Biloba, Valerian Root, St. John’s Wort -actually provide the benefits their advocates claim.

As it turns out, however, the effectivenss of its products may prove to be the least of the supplement industry’s problems, at least in the short term. Why? Because testing by the New York Attorney General has found that the dietary supplements at several major retailers – at least their private label “store brands” – are an out-and-out fraud. As in: the product identified on the label is not contained in the pills in the jar. As Tim Egan wrote in the New York Times in February, “The labels say Ginkgo biloba, or ginseng, or St. John’s wort. But testing announced by the state of New York this week found that the Ginkgo biloba sold by Walmart, for example, contained no Ginkgo biloba DNA — it was a mixture of rice, mustard, wheat and radish.” Similar results were obtained for most other supplements.

The New York Attorney General ordered the retailers – Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, or GNC – to remove the items from their shelves. Further regulatory investigations and a spat of class action lawsuits quickly followed. The incident raises troubling questions about the generally unregulated dietary supplement industry and who, if anyone, will be held accountable for the large scale defrauding of consumers.

We at The Spangenberg Law Firm are troubled by the facts uncovered by the New York Attorney General. If you have purchased private label or “store brand” Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng, or St. John’s Wort at Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, or GNC over the past two years and are interested in discussing the matter with an attorney, please contact our office.