V-Net Beverage has condemned the drinks industry's lack of transparency about its use of ginseng and is launching a 'Truth in Ginseng' campaign which it hopes will force manufacturers to reveal full information about herbal content on the label, reports Jess Halliday.
The company plans to submit a number of rival beverages purporting to contain ginseng - such as Coca-Cola's Full Throttle and PepsiCo's SoBe - to the High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) test to determine the quantity, potency, species and origin of the ginseng used.
Robert Corr, president of V-Net, plans to expose products containing no trace of ginsenosides, the active saponin glycosides present in the root of plants belonging to the panax genus which are thought to have energy-boosting and aphrodisiac properties.
He said: "The consumer has no idea of the quality or quantity of ginseng used in the beverages of our major competitors."
"Hypothetically, they could take one drop of our ginseng extract and add it to a bathtub full of water. They could then take one drop from that bathtub, add it to their beverage, and write ginseng on the container in bold letters."
The 2002 Farm Bill established that the term 'ginseng' should be used only to describe plants of the panax genus, of which two species, Chinese (panax ginseng) and American (panax quinquefolius), are used commercially.
The Siberian variety (eleuthero or eleutherococcus senticosus), which does not contain ginsenosides and sells for less than a tenth of the price of American and Chinese ginseng, may not be called ginseng under the bill.
Corr told NutraIngredients-USA.com he thinks the Farm Bill is full of loopholes and still allows companies to cheat. He is pressing for amendments that would make it obligatory for them to identify the species on product labels.
"I suspect that there are a number of people out there who are not using American ginseng or who are using eleuthero. This is going to be a wake up call for people who don't know what they are doing," said Corr.
Neither Coca Cola nor SoBe had responded to NutraIngredientsUSA.com's invitation to comment on the Truth in Ginseng campaign before publication.
V-Net's drinks contain only American ginseng grown in Wisconsin because only Wisconsin has strict laws regulating growing and processing of ginseng and guarantees there are no harmful pesticide residues, according to Corr.
In December 2004 the FDA issued a national warning after imported ginseng containing pesticide residues was seized from Livingston, NJ-based FCC Products. Procymidone and quintozene are deemed unsafe by the FDA because no tolerance has been established for residues in ginseng.
The seized ginseng was intended for use in supplements. In August the FDA issued a warning letter to Illinois' NOW Foods after quintozene was detected in one lot of its American ginseng product. NOW Foods responded by testing all of its ginseng products, recalling all lots of American ginseng and changing its testing method and ginseng supplier.