Californian-based Fraud Discovery Institute (FDI) said Herbalife's products were analyzed by independent laboratories in Switzerland and Israel and both found the weight loss products to be in excess of permitted limits for lead.
"These products are a hazard to public health and should not be on the market," FDI founder and president Barry Minkow told NutraIngredients-USA.com. "We tested six products and they all turned in the same level-breaking results."
Releases from one of the laboratories - Analytical Labs - confirmed FDI's statement and can be viewed here.
FDI derives revenue from the sale of books and recorded materials but does not receive payment for its investigations, although it recently was awarded $150,000 for court costs after it won a case against another supplements manufacturer. Founder Minkow was heavily involved in prosecutions against companies supplying ephedra products in the lead up to the herb being banned in 2004. He said Herbalife's products were in breach of permitted levels by several multiples and that manufacturing error or naturally present levels of contaminants could not be blamed for the transgressions.
Herbalife was unavailable for comment by publication time for this story.
"The worst thing is that they have been warned several times about this and they have done nothing and so we thought it was appropriate to go public with these results." said Minkow.
Proposition 65 has been criticized for setting unrealistic levels for more than 800 potential contaminants and being out of kilter with federal law, but Minkow said while there was some truth in that idea, it didn't explain Herbalife's breaches.
"This is especially troubling," stated Minkow, "because Herbalife, a California-based company, faces the toughest scrutiny in the country under the California-based Proposition 65."
However, Proposition 65 has been criticized for encouraging private enforcement actions against food and supplement makers - said by attorneys Sedgwick Detert Moran & Arnold to be "bounty-hunter tactics". "In the view of many, Proposition 65 permits legalized extortion of the business community by private enforcers, who retain 25 per cent of civil penalty as well as all attorneys fees and costs," said Carol Brophy, of Sedgwick Detert Moran & Arnold.
Proposition 65 was enacted in 1986 and listed more than 800 chemicals and chemical families known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. One company, Swanson Health Products, recently filed a petition with the FDA stating it is in conflict with federal law and requesting a full investigation into the law's status and ongoing workability.
In the petition, the company said nearly all foods and dietary supplements contained detectable levels of one or more of the 800 listed chemicals, since these chemicals occur naturally in the environment and cannot be removed.