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ABC sends NYT letter on DNA barcoding article

Blumenthal sent a letter to the editor in response to an article on the quality of herbal dietary supplements.

On Nov. 6, 2013, ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal sent the following letter to The New York Times in response to an article published on Tuesday, Nov. 5 in the "Science Times" section on the quality of herbal dietary supplements, based on a technical paper published in October in which Canadian researchers used DNA barcoding methodology to attempt to determine the identity of 44 herbal products from Canada and United States. ABC chose not to share this letter publicly until now in order to give the Times ample time to publish or contact ABC for further information, per the paper's policy. Last week, the Times published two short letters in its "Science Times" section, but not the ABC letter. ABC members may recall that ABC had issued a on the original DNA barcoding article on Nov. 5, which contains a link to an extensive, multi-authored critique of the original article.    

November 6, 2013
New York Times

Re: O’Connor A. Herbal Supplements Are Often Not What They Seem. Science Times, p. 1. New York Times, Nov. 5, 2013. Originally published online Nov. 3, 2013.

To the Editor:

As experts on herb quality control and as directors of a nonprofit international program focusing specifically on adulteration of herb raw materials and products, we found the DNA barcoding research paper by Newmaster et al. [1] informing Mr. O’Connor’s article to contain numerous errors regarding plant taxonomy, regulation, and more, and to be flawed, ambiguous, confusing, and inconsistent with data from existing scientific analytical programs. One of us (SG) informed Mr. O’Connor of these problems in an interview for his article, but they were not reported. With three additional herb analytical experts we have published an extensive critique [2] of the DNA article, suggesting that it be retracted by the journal until it can be revised, corrected, and appropriately peer-reviewed before possible republication. Unfortunately, the DNA article, and Mr. O’Connor’s uncritical coverage of it in your pages, perpetuates flawed information and creates more confusion in an already confusing area.


Mark Blumenthal, Founder & Executive Director, American Botanical Council

Stefan Gafner, PhD, Chief Science Officer, American Botanical Council; Technical Director, ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program


1 Newmaster SG, Grguric M, Shanmughanandhan D, Ramalingam S, Ragupathy S. DNA barcoding detects contamination and substitution. BMC Medicine. 2013.11:222. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-222.

2 Gafner S, Blumenthal M, Reynaud DH, Foster S, Techen N. ABC Review and Critique of the Research Article “DNA Barcoding Detects Contamination and Substitution in North American Herbal Products” by Newmaster et al. HerbalEGram, November 2013.

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