On Monday, New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman ordered GNC to remove a range of products from major retailers including Walmart, Target and Walgreens after tests conducted on some of their brands found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the medicinal herbs stated on the label.

According to The New York Times, tests revealed that pills often contained cheap fillers like powered rice, asparagus and house plants. Some of the products also reportedly contained allergens.

Authorities tested six herbal products from four retailers in New York, among them Ginseng, Ginko biloba, St John’s wart, garlic, Echinacea and Saw Palmetto. Tests on Ginko biloba, a Chinese plant that promotes memory enhancement actually contained powered radish, house plants and wheat, despite a claim on the label stating that the product was wheat and gluten-free.

“The investigation makes one thing abundantly clear: the old adage ‘buyer beware’ may be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

This development in the United States has reopened long-held scepticism over the safety and efficacy of herbal supplements and alternative medicines, an industry which is currently not subjected to the same stringent regulatory oversights that pharmaceutical medication is.

Interestingly, despite Schneiderman’s order, local health and beauty retailer Clicks – the exclusive distributor of GNC products in the country – has told Business Day that it has no intention of pulling GNC’s products from its shelves.

Clicks General Manager Sean Kristafor told the newspaper that test methods used by the US Attorney-General had not been approved by governing bodies including the US Pharmacopeia and British Pharmacopedia, while the methods GNC used to test its products had been approved by the bodies.

“The Council for Responsible Nutrition says DNA-barcoding technology is not the correct test and we were not given an opportunity to review the results. GNC stands by the efficacy of its products. It has removed them in New York, but not elsewhere,” he was quoted saying.

He added that while Clicks doesn’t conduct its own tests on products imported from the US, a commissioned consultancy reviews the products’ “quality certificates”.

Traditional and alternative medicines bodies in SA have been fighting the government on proposed legislation that seeks to regulate the multi-billion rand complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) industry.

Source: Business Day, New York Times