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Herbal supplements targeted in today's attorneys general national meeting

What will they come up with next that subsumes FDA's authority?

On Monday, Nov. 2, the National Association of Attorneys General meet in St. Louis with an agenda aimed at consumer protection.

There are but three items on the agenda: First amendment and consumer protection, debt buying issues and herbal supplements.

“I’m afraid to tell you that this is the beginning of a harsh new round of media attention, this time backed by authorities,” said Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance. “We anticipate editorial arguing the FDA lacks authority to regulate the industry because of DSHEA (the seminal 1994 Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act), and Attorneys General are empowered in states to take action.”

Oregon’s state attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, hopped on the bandwagon two weeks ago when she sued GNC for selling supplements containing unapproved ingredients. Rosenblum’s office accused the supplements retailer of violating the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act by selling products containing the mood enhancer picamilon, which contains niacin and GABA and the botanical Acacia rigidula, which contains BMPEA, a stimulant compound used in sports and weight-loss products.

The official legal complaint can be seen here.

The empowered attorneys general started feeling their oats after the New York attorney general in February went after retail giants Walmart, Target, Walgreens and GNC for selling allegedly adulterated or contaminated supplements. Although those charges eventually were proven to be largely bogus (GNC was allowed to put its products back on store shelves after agreeing to use DNA barcoding to test certain incoming ingredients), it nevertheless shifted the regulatory nature governing supplements from the federal FDA to the states.

"If the FDA is unable to take action,” said Oregon assistant attorney general David Hart, "and the health and safety or Oregonians are threatened, Oregon can move in quickly to fill the regulatory void." Regardless of whether regulation of dietary supplements requires reform, more aggressive enforcement of existing law will better protect consumers.

The upshot for supplement manufacturers, said Israelsen, is to “invest in transparency by putting product quality and supply-chain integrity atop your list.”

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