Ex-CEO of GNC on herbal research retraction: ‘Really sad to see scientists abused the trust of our consumer’

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Herbal supplements

The recent retraction of a controversial 2013 paper that used a DNA testing methodology to allege widespread adulteration in herbal products has been welcomed by the former CEO of GNC.

As reported Friday by NutraIngredients-USA​, BMC Medicine​ retracted the 2013 paper citing a University of Guelph investigation that found evidence of data fabrication. It should be stressed that four of the paper’s five authors have expressed disagreement with the journal’s decision.

The paper led to an article in the New York Times​, which sparked an investigation in 2015 by the office of then New York Attorney General (NYAG) Eric Schneiderman. The NYAG’s probe rapidly grew to pull in some of the most recognizable names in retail and dietary supplements.

On the frontline of the industry response to the investigation was Michael Archbold, who served as CEO of GNC from 2014 to 2016. Speaking to NutraIngredients-USA following the retraction announcement, Archbold said: “I’m certainly very happy that it's now been retracted. It's of course, at the same time, sad that it's taken a full decade to actually correct the record.

“And it’s important to recognize those in the industry who were really champions at the time who stood up and said that there were lots of issues with this [paper]. And those range from the folks at American Botanical Council to the American Herbal Products Association, and they were consistent in pointing out the flaws in the science then and have really kept up the drumbeat over the years and stayed on top of it.”

Uncharted territory

Archbold also reflected on the NYAG’s investigation, which he described as “uncharted territory” for GNC and revealed that he learned about the investigation when a journalist at the New York Times​ contacted the company for comment.

“They [the NYAG’s office] launched this investigation into GNC and into others, [and] they ignored the scientists who were challenging the testing methods,” said Archbold. “When presented with mountains of data supporting the products that were in question, the Attorney General's Office remained unrelenting, and at the same time, simultaneously refusing to produce their own results.”

GNC defended their products and revisited their own testing results for the specific lot numbers tested by the NYAG, and these included the original tests and subsequent in-house and third-party testing, he said.

“Sadly, through the entire process, the New York attendant Attorney General never shared the results of their testing,” said Archbold. “In the end, we were able to return the exact same product, those specific lots to the shelves, and so they'd be available for our customers.”

The NYAG’s eventually closed the investigation and recognized that GNC’s products were safe, pure, properly labeled, and in full compliance with all regulatory requirements, he added. “So, it is great to see that the science that started this, ultimately has been withdrawn.

“My big takeaway is flawed science and political egos make for some strange bedfellows.”

Watch the video for the full interview.

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