Coalition of Attorneys General to Investigate Herbal Supplement Industry

Brian Nettles, Esq.

There is no question that awareness of health and natural foods are at the forefront of concerns in America these days. What was once a niche market, organic and health-minded consumption is now mainstream. The market for organic foods reportedly jumped from $28.4 billion in 2012, to an estimated $35 billion in 2014. To put that into perspective, even McDonald’s plans to get rid of antibiotic-treated chicken–and add kale to it’s menu.

Needless to say, consumer appetite for organically produced, health-boosting items is growing big time. There is a lot of money in the business boom–and a significant portion of it may not be made so naturally. According to the NY Times, a group of attorneys general is

Attorney Brian Nettles

Attorney Brian Nettles

poised to rein in alleged dishonest labeling and production of herbal supplements.

By themselves, herbal supplements rake in roughly $5 billion in profit each year, but recently, a growing cloud of product and labeling complaints follows the massive profit (NY Times). Among the complaints, are concerns that the supplements are made of mostly cheap fillers, like wheat and powdered rice, and demands for proof of authenticity.

The sale of false “herbal” supplements isn’t just unfair to our wallets–it can also be very dangerous. Unlike chemically designed drugs (like acetaminophen and others), the process for verifying the quality or safety of a supplement is a lot of smoke and mirrors.  Herbal supplements are only pulled from the market once they are proven to have caused harm (like ephedra, which was banned after being linked to heart attacks, stroke, and deaths). This is due to an old federal law from the nineties that says the FDA can’t be as strict in approving supplements as it can prescription drugs. Unfortunately, this leaves herbal supplements or “botanicals” are left unregulated even though some of them can have drug like effects.

It is this procedural definition and law that prevents the FDA from keeping unsafe and fake herbal products off the shelves. Instead, change must come from the state level; which, is why a group of attorneys general are leading the crusade. Sparked by an investigation and official accusation of false sales by the New York Attorney General’s office, a coalition of other attorney generals is expected to be announced sometime this month.  So far, the group reportedly includes Indiana, Connecticut, and Puerto Rico (NY Times).

Hopefully, this coalition will prove to be the force needed to hold dishonest manufacturers accountable for exploiting consumers with the promise of better health. To demand accurate labeling and quality herbal products, contact your representative. 

To learn more about herbal supplements and if they may be right for you, talk to your doctor.


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