6. Botanical adulteration scandal in New York
This one is still under way so it’s a little difficult to place it in historical context. The short story is the New York State attorney general
selected the private-label brands from the four biggest retailers - Walmart, Target, Walgreens, GNC - of seven of the more popular botanical supplements: ginkgo, St. John’s wort, ginseng, garlic, echinacea, saw palmetto and valerian. Using a DNA testing method advocated by no one anywhere (because extracts typically lose their source material DNA during extraction and processing), the action was nevertheless picked up by the New York Times and trumpeted across the front page. The initial public response was a crushing blow to the tenuous trust the industry has built up over the last two decades about the quality of its offerings.
While this could end up being just another short-term media kerfuffle, here’s why it may not be. First, it could fundamentally alter behaviors in a lasting way – both by consumers, who may turn away from botanical medicine (despite its widespread acceptance around the world and for thousands of years), as well as by Congress. There’s a new generation of national legislators whose views of supplements could fundamentally shift to one of disdain and mistrust of the entire category of dietary supplements. Uncalled-for legislation could easily follow.
Second and perhaps more helpfully, this could be a wake-up call to those players in the industry who make their decisions based on three things: price, price, price. Oftentimes, you get what you pay for, and to meet pricing requests, corners are cut. Economically motivated adulteration is a significant problem, but with the sudden specter of potential action by a state attorney general looming, not to mention the follow-up class-action lawsuits, saving a nickel a bottle in raw material costs suddenly pales in comparison to having your entire line pulled from store shelves. This could finally be the thing to put a significant dent in the curse of bad actors in the industry that give the rest of the industry a bad name.