The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) has assessed an article issued today by Consumer Reports (CR) on its analytical review of 16 echinacea and 13 turmeric products. AHPA has found that CR relied on arbitrary or internal standards for its analysis, apparently in order to support its preconceived view of herbal supplements, expressed by repeating in today’s article the false myth of ‘lack of regulation’ of dietary supplements.
CR headlines this story by declaring that supplements “should contain just what's listed on their labels,” and AHPA completely agrees with this position. Compliance with label claims is a key element of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) robust regulation of dietary supplements.
But CR also claims its review “identified concerns with more than a third” of the tested products. For all but one specific product, however, the “concerns” identified are related to factors on which CR assigned analytical targets that ignore federal labeling regulations and quality standards developed by AHPA and other authoritative organizations.
For example, the CR article reports that none of the 29 tested products exceeds the limits for lead established by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), which is recorded in USP General Chapter <2232> as 5 micrograms per day. CR nonetheless declares that seven of the tested products “exceeded CR’s stricter threshold,” but does not provide any data or supporting information to identify that stricter level or describe how it was adopted.
The most significant concern voiced by CR asserts that one of the echinacea products it tested contains only 20 percent of the amount of a declared constituent.
AHPA supports the legal requirement for supplement products to meet label claims. Under FDA’s current good manufacturing practice rule, supplement companies are required to confirm label compliance by using scientifically valid tests or examinations, though some variability can occur in the results obtained from different analytical methods.
CR also challenges two other products for which its analysis found no detectable amount of a specific constituent associated with the echinacea species listed on the products’ labels, though neither of these products actually declared the presence of this constituent.
AHPA notes that supplement companies are obligated to comply with FDA’s stringent labeling rules to ensure that what’s on the label is in the bottle, but are not required to meet arbitrary expectations for what CR thinks should be in the bottle. The reductionist focus by CR on one specific compound ignores that herbs are complex mixtures of numerous natural constituents and are often valued for more than a single such compound.
CR also reports that two of the tested products “exceed the USP threshold for aerobic bacteria,” but also acknowledges that at least one of these met AHPA’s guidelines for microbial limits, and that the other may have been the subject of counterfeiting. AHPA president Michael McGuffin was interviewed for this article and pointed out to the CR writer that the AHPA standard is the same as that established in NSF/ANSI 173, the American National Standards Institute’s approved standard for dietary supplements. It is unfortunate that CR chose to ignore AHPA’s input on this detail.
Consumer Reports provides important food safety information to consumers on issues such as potential pathogenic contamination of romaine lettuce and handling of raw chicken in home preparation. AHPA appreciates such guidance when it’s within CR’s area of expertise, but its apparent lack of understanding of supplement regulations combined with its unwillingness to consider experienced input to learn more about herbal product quality standards diminishes the value of its communication in this subject area.