Steve Mister, President and CEO of CRN, told us: “We’ve been reaching out to Attorney General Schneiderman’s office for about a week and now we’ve decided to send a formal request to release the report.”
The AG was under no obligation to release the report, said Mister. “The AG’s response in the media has been that this is an ‘active investigation’ and he won’t release the report, but we feel this is not a typical investigation given the very public way it was released. We think that since the AG has been very public he should now be very transparent.”
The NY AG released results of his investigation into GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart via the New York Times last week. The industry, botanical community, and analytical experts have responded negatively to the investigation’s reliance on DNA barcoding to measure genetic material in extracts.
‘A well-intentioned, but misguided effort’
In its new letter, CRN states it is, “greatly concerned that these findings may be based on a well-intentioned, but misguided effort to locate DNA in finished herbal extracts using DNA barcode technology. Unfortunately, the process of extracting an herb’s phytochemicals for use in finished products can either damage, destroy or simply leave behind the DNA this testing protocol is designed to find, leaving many scientists – both inside and outside the industry – to question whether DNA barcoding technology is an appropriate or validated method for determining the presence of herbal ingredients in finished botanical products. DNA barcode testing may well be the wrong test for these kinds of products.
“… Accordingly, CRN requests the opportunity to review:
• the Attorney General’s methodology and rationale for conducting DNA barcode testing on finished extract products,
• the raw data from the tests,
• the reference standards against which these test results were compared, and
• a copy of the full report for the investigation.
“In addition, we would request an opportunity to sit down with your staff to discuss this investigation. We are hopeful that we can find common ground to discover some explanation for these test results, given our mutual desire to assure consumers that the dietary supplement industry delivers safe and beneficial products to its customers.”
Mister said that the association is not only looking at the AG in New York, but is also watching the water for ripples in different directions. “We’ve reached out to the FDA and the FTC, and we’re monitoring other states to make sure other AGs are not going to jump in.
“The companies are doing their own testing, and GNC issued a statement with the results of their own tests and re-tests,” said Mister. “We’re now waiting to see if what others are going to do.”
CRN is also making the rounds on Capitol Hill with the industry’s allies and “some of the critics”, he said. “They’re all reading the same news so we have to ensure they don’t act rashly based on the reporting.”
Communicating with consumers
While the New York Times continues to support its original story, even publishing an editorial over the weekend from its Editorial Board that bangs the AG’s drum with zero consideration for an alternative opinion, other media outlets are covering the limitations and flaws in the AG’s application of DNA barcoding.
“I am pleased to see the journalists are questioning the data, and they should,” said Mister.
CRN is also being pro-active to provide consumers with information and material that explains the situation in a way they can understand, he said. The association has launched a special section on its website that includes a consumer Q&A about herbal dietary supplements and recent actions by the New York Attorney General, and an infographic (displayed below).
All of the trade associations are attacking the situation from the angle of their own membership, said Mister, but they are also working together to ensure the industry speaks with one voice or the same voice. CRN is meeting with the Natural Products Association, the American Herbal Products Association, the United Natural Products Alliance, and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association today to discuss the matter further, he said.
“What you’ll see is the associations complimenting each other,” said Mister. “For example, UNPA is trying to test the products, while we’re working Congress and the consumer angles.”
A spokesperson for the UNPA confirmed for NutraIngredients-USA that it has received “more than 26 boxes of products from around the country, including those from all four retailers, and are inventorying and cataloging them on the front end of distribution to certified labs later this week. We do have matching lot numbers for all of the products targeted by the NY AG.”
The alliance added that it anticipates the results and analysis will take at least three weeks to complete.