Botanical Herbs

New York State’s Attorney General’s Office Assumes the Worse with Supplement Industry

By now, most everyone especially inside the supplement industry has read one of many news feeds about New York State attorney general’s office accusing four U.S. retailers for allegedly selling fraudulent herbal dietary supplements.

This news has been snowballing since it broke on February 2, 2015 and has now made its way around the world and landed on capital hill where Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are asking the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a nationwide investigation.

This entire mess has centered itself around DNA, which I’m giving a new meaning, “Do Not Assume”

NY AG office is assuming their DNA tests are 100 percent accurate, which couldn’t be further from the truth. As it is well understood by experts dealing with the manufacturing of botanical ingredients that DNA may not be detected if the botanical in question was extracted using a variety of techniques to isolate an individual component.

American Botanical Council wrote a great response to this news. If you haven’t seen that, please do have a read. (

Here is an example of the limitations of DNA testing. The U.S. – China Health Products Association (USCHPA) is contracting with China’s Academy of Science to conduct some DNA testing of botanical ingredients. Here is their process, which points directly to the problem of testing powders and/or extracts of botanical ingredients using DNA as the validating method. The Academy of Science will only conduct tests and issue certificates when the entire unprocessed raw botanical material is provided. The reason for this is first they must identify the botanical using physical identification prior to running the DNA testing. They do not accept powdered extracts to run DNA testing because the results could be misleading and inconclusive.

USCHPA cannot say with 100 percent conviction that there aren’t those players in the industry that are cutting corners and economically adulterating products. It is a fact that those entities do exist. Although a minority of the industry, their unscrupulous business practices negatively impact the entire industry and at times like these only magnify the situation.

Another good read on the subject of botanical supplements is to reach back to 2012 and re-read Nutraceuticals World’s “2012 International Herb & Botanical Trends”report, which contains some good information that is still very much relevant. (

Supply Chain

For those above board manufacturers of finished dietary supplements, the goal should be doing your utmost to shrink the supply chain. The shorter the chain, the less “links” that could break. This of course will not guarantee quality or safety, but will allow you to divide your firm’s due diligence endeavors and trust building strategies between fewer parties.

The ideal and shortage chain would be to vertically integrate. However, for most that just is not possible, so we are left with the next shortest chain: “Ingredient supplier – finished product manufacturer – retailer – consumer”.

Even with this short chain, there are still two entities involved that can impact the quality of the products.

Ingredient Supplier – you can’t see the words “supply chain” without thinking to rearrange the letters of “chain” to end up with “China”. The fact is a great majority of the ingredients going into the global dietary supplement and the packaged food & beverage industries are coming from China. If you went into any U.S. super market and said remove all items that contain ingredients sourced from China, you’d be left with a bunch of empty shelves.

The industry loves to bash on China and point the all-accusing finger, but finished product manufacturers and those sourcing from China have to take some responsibility. As it’s said, it takes two hands to clap. Chinese suppliers often complain to me that foreign manufacturers push them hard on price and are looking for the best deal not the best quality. Insert another apropos saying, “You get what you pay for”.

Furthermore, it just isn’t China, ingredients are sourced from all over the world and quality issues can spring up in any region. It isn’t where it’s made, it’s how it’s made.

China has some of the best and worse suppliers in the world. Having lived in China for ten years, I have seen the good, the bad and the down right ugly. This is where third party testing and regular visits to build up relationships plays a big part in finding the right supplier.

NSF is one of the association’s board members and is a great resource for global companies looking to source ingredients in China. NSF has a state of the art laboratory in Shanghai that can conduct ingredient testing prior to export. They also offer a robust 3rd party cGMP registration program with over 50 Chinese suppliers having already passed NSF’s auditing. For more details on these programs

Finished Product Manufacturer – manufacturers should be taking advantage of programs such as the ones NSF offers. However, once the product is manufactured and on the shelf how do consumers know they are getting a safe high quality product? Well that’s where Consumer Lab comes in. I feel Consumer Lab offers a great service to assist in protecting consumers, retailers as well as doing their part to keep manufacturers honest.

Manufacturers, retailers and consumers should all be utilizing Consumer Lab as a valued 3rd party that is safeguarding that last link in the supply chain prior to the consumer purchase. For more details visit:

The quality and safety of a finished product starts with the ingredient supplier and ends with the retailer. However, I feel that quality and safety is build through symbiotic trusting relationships. For example, ingredient suppliers that are keen on building up a good reputation and solid relationships with their finished product clients should be well aware of what their customers are doing with their ingredients. If their client missteps, the blame could potentially fall back on the ingredient supplier. It is in the ingredient supplier’s best interest to understand and even test what their customers are doing. I know a couple of ingredient suppliers that take it upon themselves to go out into the market and buy their customers products and test for label accuracy of their ingredient(s). Again this is another way to keep manufacturers at their best.


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