To Herb is Human

By Steve Mister, President & CEO, Council for Responsible Nutrition

- Last updated on GMT

To Herb is Human

Related tags: Herb

We all make mistakes, but how we deal with them and learn from adversity, that’s the measure of a better person. At least, that’s what my grandfather used to say. But these days, it seems that the New York Attorney General (NYAG), faced with the growing realization that his DNA barcode testing of herbal extracts was misguided, is instead embarking on a campaign of deception to save face for his ill-conceived investigation.

It started when the NYAG’s office performed DNA barcode testing on herbal extracts purchased from four national retailers and announced that he found no DNA from the herbs in the products. Not surprisingly, the “whole herb” products the NYAG tested did have DNA in them, while the herbal extracts did not.

Herbal extracts are created by selecting the intended herbs and pulling out the desired phytochemicals in the plant using solvents (like water, vinegar or alcohol), heat, high pressure, or other methods. As a result, herbal extracts typically leave the DNA of the plant behind along with other cellular material, or fragment it so that it’s hard to detect in the finished product. Companies often make products with herbal extracts in order to standardize the particular components from the plant that have been demonstrated to have health benefits. Extracts can provide consistent levels of these beneficial phytochemicals despite a whole host of plant variations that can occur from different growing conditions, geographical differences and seasonal changes.

Extraction is a common manufacturing practice, not only for herbal supplements, but for food products in general. But perhaps the NYAG didn’t know that. So when his DNA barcode testing didn’t find DNA and was universally criticized as inappropriate for herbal extracts and unlikely to produce reliable results, rather than acknowledge that his office simply got the test wrong, the story changed. To avoid admitting his mistake, the NYAG has begun to complain that herbal extracts are “so highly processed” that they remove all the DNA. His office hopes to create the impression that the highly refined, and sometimes expensive, processing that delivers quality, uniform products is somehow cheapening the supplements by removing the DNA.

Mister
Steve Mister, CRN

And to complete the deception, the NYAG’s office has asserted that because consumers don’t understand what an extract is, they are being deceived by the picture of the plant on the front of the label. In the NYAG’s version, consumers believe when they purchase an extract-containing herbal supplement that they are getting the entire plant in each bottle. Really? Do consumers purchase an herbal extract for the DNA or for the time-tested chemicals produced by the plant that contribute to better health?  

Herbal extract dietary supplements are clearly labeled on the front of package labeling with the word “extract”—just as vanilla or almond extracts on the baking aisle say “extract.” In addition, the Supplement Facts box of an herbal extract dietary supplement must identify the product as an extract, and most will also indicate the components to which it is standardized. Do homemakers really think the entire vanilla plant can be found in a bottle of vanilla extract, or only the parts of the plant that provide the vanilla flavoring? Why would they think otherwise of a dietary supplement?

So now, in the name of protecting New York consumers from supposed fraud, the NYAG asserts that consumers don’t know what they are purchasing and would be shocked to discover the entire plant is not in every bottle. He has yet to produce any consumer research that actual users of herbal supplements don’t understand the difference. He hasn’t released the results of his DNA testing either. It’s a little insulting that his office gives consumers so little credit. I suspect consumer surveys or focus groups of actual users of herbal extracts would tell a different story.

But in the meantime, New York consumers who want to take more control over their own health should be aware of the paternalistic use of their tax dollars by the NYAG being exercised on their behalf. 

To err is human; to forgive divine. To admit when you are wrong may require some divine intervention. 

NYAC-comic-CRN
Please click to enlarge. Cartoon (c) CRN, 2015. Used with permission

Related news

Show more

3 comments

You Are Wrong, tRuth

Posted by Jeff,

tRuth: Hey Shit For Brains. GMPs are enforced by FDA inspection of each manufacturing plant before anything is produced. The FDA has stated that no large supplement firm (500 employees or larger) has ever failed a plant inspection. What happened when GNC showed their validated test results to that clown Schneiderman? The Attorney General quickly reversed his position and lifted the ban; all GNC's products are back on the shelves, available for purchase. This entire affair has been a waste of New York taxpayers' money.

Report abuse

TRuth, you are wrong and vulgar

Posted by Amy Mitchell,

The dietary supplement industry manufactures under cGMP's with most companies having been audited by the FDA. Having worked in then dietary supplement industry for 23 years, successful companies are doing it right. TRuth, you are wrong. In order to properly test a dietary supplement, and to locate a specific ingredient or active constituent, a valid test method is required. DNA bar code testing is not a valid test method for an herbal extract. The NY AG in his ignorance used the wrong method and it failed. DUH! He should admit his failure and work with our industry not ignore it to conduct his desired investigation.

Report abuse

Hey, Steve. Shut the F&#k up.

Posted by tRuth,

Test the products the AG tested via "scientifically valid methods" and PUBLISH THE RESULTS - and then run your mouth all you want.

You want to talk about admissions and deception? Fine - admit to consumers that there are a significant number of products in the marketplace that are misbranded, adulterated, and being manufactured out of compliance with those regulations you love to tell people your industry is under (60-70% non compliance per FDA). -ps: and by all means, dump blame on the fully authorized to enforce but woefully under-resourced agency, which has to operate post-market thanks to DSHEA (and anyone with a brain can tell congress can't and won't ever be able to fund enough to get it done).

Report abuse

Follow us

Products

View more

Webinars