The agreement affects several popular brands, including Solgar, Nature’s Bounty and Sundown Naturals.
NBTY, one of the nation’s largest makers of popular supplements such as Ginkgo biloba and ginseng, has agreed to conduct advanced genetic testing to help ensure its herbal products contain the ingredients promised on the label.
The agreement, which affects several popular brands, including Solgar, Nature’s Bounty and Sundown Naturals, was announced Wednesday by the New York state Attorney General’s Office. It follows an agency investigation last year that found that 4 of 5 of the products tested from major retailers did not contain any of the herbs promised on their labels.
Instead, the agency said, the bottles often contained pills made of cheap fillers such as powdered rice, asparagus and house plants, and in some cases, substances such as nuts and soy that could be dangerous to people with food allergies.
The agreement with NBTY is the third such agreement with a supplement maker negotiated by the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and puts more pressure on the herbal-supplement industry to adopt stricter quality-control measures.
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Last year, two major supplement makers, GNC and Nature’s Way, said they would implement strict new quality-control procedures such as advanced DNA testing to authenticate the plants used in their herbal products.
The attorney general’s investigation was prompted by an article in The New York Times in 2013 that raised questions about widespread labeling fraud in the herbal-supplement industry.
The article referred to research at the University of Guelph in Canada, which found as many as a third of herbal supplements tested did not contain the plants listed on their labels.
NBTY, based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., said Wednesday it would begin to phase in the use of advanced DNA testing on the ingredients from its suppliers, and will conduct random tests of its products to screen for any allergens.
NBTY is one of the dominant companies in the $7 billion herbal-supplement industry, although exact market-share numbers are not available.
NBTY, which is owned by the private equity company Carlyle Group, does not disclose what portion of its $3 billion in annual revenue comes from herbal products.
The company lists more than 22,000 products, including herbal products, vitamins, meal replacements, protein bars and fish oil and other nutrition supplements.
In a statement, NBTY’s general counsel, Stratis Philippis, said its herbal supplements had passed standard industry tests required under federal law, but that it was agreeing to do more advanced DNA testing for the benefit of consumers.
The attorney general’s investigation last year prompted increased scrutiny of the herbal-supplement industry and led to dozens of class-action lawsuits.
Consumer advocates said it highlighted the federal government’s lax regulation of herbal supplements.
The industry has countered that the DNA testing method is not always reliable because many supplements come from herbal extracts, and DNA from the plants advertised on their labels would not always be present because DNA is damaged during manufacturing and extraction.
In a written agreement, the attorney general’s office acknowledged NBTY had provided documentation showing the company had used traditional chemical testing procedures on its herbal supplements as required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Critics have said the FDA’s regulations and oversight of the industry is too weak.
And Schneiderman’s office said that in many instances, the traditional tests required by the agency “fail to adequately detect the presence of known organic contaminants, including allergens, or unidentified fillers.”
The attorney general said the advanced DNA testing procedure NBTY had agreed to implement — known as DNA bar coding, which identifies plants and other organisms by their genetic fingerprints — was a more powerful method for detecting potential contaminants in the herbal supply chain.