2013 DNA barcoding article questioning integrity of herbal products retracted

Editor “no longer has confidence in the presented data” following investigative findings of fabrication

July 8, 2024

The controversial article that inaccurately raised alarm over claims of ingredient contamination and substitution in U.S. and Canadian herbal products, which harmed the responsible dietary supplement industry in multiple respects, has been retracted.

On July 4, the editor of BMC Medicine announced the retraction of the 2013 article “DNA barcoding detects contamination and substitution in North American herbal products” by Steven G. Newmaster et al. The retraction notice states that an investigation by the University of Guelph “found evidence of data fabrication” in relation to the article and that, therefore, the editor “no longer has confidence in the presented data.”

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) and others roundly criticized the article when it was published, calling into question its use of DNA barcoding to report that a majority of herbal products tested by Dr. Newmaster and his group “contained species of plants not listed on the labels” and that many “also contained contaminants and or fillers not listed on the label.”

In a letter to BMC Medicine's editor, AHPA President Michael McGuffin identified inaccuracies and communicated that the authors' “blanket assertions about the accuracy of this novel analytical tool are premature.”

“As we pointed out at the time of its publication, Dr. Newmaster's article contained significant inaccuracies, including the false claim that no best practices exist for identifying herbal ingredients, contrary to FDA regulations,” said McGuffin following announcement of the retraction. “Furthermore, the premature endorsement of DNA barcoding without acknowledging its limitations misled readers.”

The now-retracted article also prompted New York's Attorney General to issue cease and desist letters in early 2015 to four large retailers of herbal products. These misdirected actions led to many news articles that challenged the quality and integrity of herbal products. These actions also ultimately led to many retailers' requiring extra-regulatory compliance measures and documentation from dietary supplement suppliers, which continues to this day.

“Though long overdue, the retraction of this erroneous article underscores the importance of accuracy and integrity in scientific reporting,” added AHPA Chief Science Officer Holly E. Johnson, Ph.D.




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