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Correcting the record: Addressing New York's Attorney General

Industry and experts speak; AHPA encourages informed responses 

AHPA, its members, and all responsible marketers of herbal products are committed to ensuring that products meet all specifications and label claims and to conforming to the extensive GMP (good manufacturing practice) regulations that govern these products under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration. We support consumers’ expectations that herbal products are labeled accurately and contain all declared ingredients, and we welcome honest and scientifically sound scrutiny.

As has now been widely reported, on February 3, 2015 the New York State Attorney General issued cease and desist letters to four large retailers to demand that they stop sales of certain herbal supplements. The AG alleged that these products had been subject to analytic testing that disclosed the products to be “either unrecognizable or a substance other than what they claimed to be, and therefore constitute contaminated or substituted products.”

In taking these actions the New York AG relied on DNA barcode testing, an analytical method that has only limited applicability for accurately identifying herbs and herbal products. In addition, most if not all of the tested products contained herbal extracts, an ingredient form which makes each herb’s naturally occurring constituents more available but generally does not retain intact DNA.

These actions by the New York AG have attracted tremendous media attention. AHPA has worked to correct erroneous media coverage by submitting numerous letters to editors of media outlets, and other organizations have also been active in pursuit of accurate journalism.

Talking Points: You can (and should) respond to correct the record

Several of AHPA’s members have been contacted by reporters wanting their views of the New York AG’s allegations and others have identified local news articles that blindly restate these allegations as if they were scientifically supportable. Many herbal experts have now gone on the record to try to correct this misinformation (see sidebar: “The Experts Speak”) and AHPA and other organizations as well as independent news outlets have provided spirited corrections (see below).

It is essential that further news on this story be balanced with accurate information that challenges the very basis of the AG’s allegations. In order to accomplish this, AHPA is presenting here key talking points and a template “letter to the editor” for use by members who want to help set the record straight.

AHPA has prepared the following talking points that you can use if you are contacted by a reporter who asks about the actions by the AG and the analysis that led to these allegations:

  • The wrong test was used to analyze the herbal supplements so the results are invalid.
  • The tested products contained herbal extracts. The processes for extracting herbs are designed to make the naturally occurring constituents more available, and there is no reason to retain intact (and therefore detectable) DNA to do so. There is no relationship between the quality of an herbal extract and the presence of detectable DNA.
  • DNA barcode testing is an emerging science that requires specific expertise and proper validation, yet the New York AG has not provided any information to evaluate these essential criteria. In fact the AG has refused to release any of the background data that would allow other expert review.
  • Other analytical methods, such as microscopy and chromatography, are effectively used to confirm the identity of herbal ingredients. At least one other such method should have been used to confirm – or more likely contradict – the DNA tests.
  • FDA’s manufacturing regulations require supplement companies to verify that their products meet all specifications, including for identity. Use of DNA analysis without some other confirming analysis would be unlikely to meet this regulatory requirement, and is equally insufficient for proving the allegations of the New York AG. 
  • FDA regularly inspects supplement companies to ensure compliance with product identity and all other manufacturing rules. This federal agency has authority to act against noncompliant companies and actively enforces these regulations.

In addition, if you see any inaccurate reports that blindly repeat the New York AG’s allegations, you can customize AHPA's letter to the editor template to help inform reporters and editors. If you do so, please send a copy to Haley Chitty to keep AHPA’s files up to date.

Media questions validity of NY AG's DNA testing

Numerous media outlets, publications and experts have also highlighted the problems with the New York State Attorney General's testing.

Industry groups push back

Organizations that support the herbal supplement industry immediately took action to refute the New York State Attorney General's poorly substantiated allegations:

AHPA on the record

Before this news broke, AHPA challenged the scientific basis for the New York Attorney General's allegations when contacted by the Associated Press, stating that DNA testing is "an emerging technology that has the potential to be useful in the future when it has been rigorously tested and validated." AHPA stressed that "identification of an herb through DNA testing must be confirmed with established analytical tools that herbal experts use, such as chromatography or microscopy." This Associated Press article has been widely syndicated and cited including these media outlets:

  • Associated Press
  • Fox News
  • Lexology
  • The Guardian
  • Popular Science
  • Al Jazeera America
  • NJ Spotlight
  • Chromatography Today
  • Naples Herald

AHPA has responded to more than two dozen articles that unquestioningly reiterated the NY AG allegations.

Here are a few of the media outlets AHPA has responded to:

  • Fox News
  • NPR
  • Tulsa World
  • SHAPE Magazine
  • New York Times
  • CNN
  • Buffalo News
  • CBS News
  • Palm Beach Post
  • Times Union

If you see an article that merits a response by AHPA, please contact Haley Chitty.

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