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Dateline NBC exposé provides opportunity to fix dry labbing issues

By Stephen Daniells , 19-Mar-2012
Last updated on 19-Mar-2012 at 17:41 GMT

Frank Jaksch talks to NutraIngredients-USA.com about dry labbing
Frank Jaksch talks to NutraIngredients-USA.com about dry labbing

Yesterday's airing of a Dateline NBC exposé on dry labbing practices in dietary supplements represents an opportunity for industry to tackle the problem head on, says Frank Jaksch, CSO and co-founder of ChromaDex.

Jaksch, who featured prominently during the show as an industry expert on supplement testing, hailed the investigative segment as an “important first step in addressing this problem”.

Dry labbing is a practice whereby research or analysis is claimed to be done, but in reality the conclusions are guessed at or copied from other sources without actually doing any analysis.

Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA, Jaksch said that the practice of dry labbing had been “going on for too long”.

“Industry has to fix this on its own,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for the market to say, ‘There is a problem and we may be able to do something about it’”.

Seed event

Jaksch addressed the same topic in an exclusive video interview with NutraIngredients-USA last year and hinted at the Dateline NBC segment as the  “seed event” to bring dry labbing into the spotlight. Please click here to watch the video interview .

Jaksch has previously said that there may be more laboratories out there that are pulling this practice than many people think.

Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), challenged the assertion that dry labbing is widespread.

“Over 150 million Americans are using dietary supplements each year and there is little evidence of widespread adulteration, contamination of ingredients, or serious adverse events,” he said.

“We don’t think the practice of dry labbing is widespread.”

Dateline NBC

Investigative reporter Chris Hansen and his undercover Dateline NBC colleagues singled out one laboratory: Tuscon, AZ-based Atlas Bioscience.

With the help of personnel at ChromaDex, samples were tainted with arsenic, lead, Sibutramine, and selenium dioxide and then sent to Atlas Bioscience for testing.

Hansen himself handed over an initial fabricated certificate of analysis (C of A) for the samples he wanted Atlas to test. The results came back almost identical to the initial fabricated C of A, and no report of the presence of the adulterants was made.

Dinesh Patel, president of Atlas Bioscience told NutraIngredients-USA that he had not seen the segment, but said the allegation that Atlas was a dry lab was “far from the truth”.

“We were sent a sample that was engineered to trick us,” said Patel. “We agreed to an interview since we have to defend our analysis and our work.”

The company’s official response to Dateline NBC was:“When given misleading information regarding a sample’s make‐up we would not be aware that the data being observed is being compromised due to matrix parameters we are not cognizant towards.”

Lab competence

Loren Israelsen, executive director of United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), said that the segment was “sobering and distressing and this issue will hopefully be dealt with.

“The bigger issue is lab competence, and this extends to food, drugs, and other analyticals, including water testing,” he said.

“The hope from this show is that the entire commercial chain within the dietary supplements industry – from raw material suppliers, contract manufacturers, brand owners, contract labs, academics who support the industry, and the Office of Dietary Supplements – comes together and helps to develop lab competence.”

UNPA has operated an analytical group within its membership for several years, he added, and the association has been running analytical lab competence training seminars since 2004.

Solutions

Cara Welch, PhD, VP of scientific & regulatory affairs for the Natural Products Association (NPA), told NutraIngredients-USA that it would be difficult to set up a qualification program for laboratories and that such an initiative would take time.

“It really is up to the manufacturers to go the extra step and audit not only their suppliers but also the testing facilities. Throw them a false sample every once in a while and see if they catch it. I think that is good practice.”

“We support government and industry actions to both produce dietary supplements according to GMPs and eliminate drugs wrongly labeled as supplements,” she added. “Products that contain undeclared drug ingredients are not dietary supplements.”

Responsibility

CRN’s Mister expressed his concern with the report that a "few companies engaging in fraudulent and criminal activity overshadow the legitimate products sold by responsible companies”.

“However, let’s be clear,” he said, “by law, every single bottle of dietary supplements should contain what is on the label and what is on the label should be in the bottle. 

“The manufacturer whose name is on the product is 100% responsible to the consumer and to FDA.

“We take seriously the allegations raised by this television program of fraudulent laboratory practices, and urge the FDA to use its ample legal authority to take legal action against the companies involved in these illegal activities.

“Responsible companies follow the GMP regulations [and these] rules prescribe step-by-step requirements for the manufacturing and testing of dietary supplements – from the raw ingredients coming into a plant to the finished products headed for consumers – and place  absolute responsibility on the manufacturers and distributors, including the actions of any testing labs they hire.”

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