Probe Finds Popular Supplements Contain Rice, Houseplants

The New York State attorney general's office sent cease-and-desist letters to Wal-Mart, Target, GNC and Walgreens over their store-brand supplements.

Probe Finds Popular Supplements Contain Rice, Houseplants
Getty Images / Bruno Vincent

Four major retailers are feeling the accusatory glare of the New York state attorney general’s office after being accused of selling fraudulent herbal supplements. 

The four retailers are GNC, Target, Walgreens and Wal-Mart.

"They found four out of five products did not contain any of the herbs that were on their labels," a CBS anchor said.

This news came after authorities tested the top-selling herbal supplements store brands. The New York Times says: 

"The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies."

The state of New York sent all four retailers cease-and-desist letters, citing "deceptive business practices" and "considerable health risks for consumers."

The testing was done on supplements supposedly containing ginkgo biloba, St. John's wort, ginseng, garlic, echinacea, valerian root and saw palmetto. 

The worst offender was Wal-Mart, which failed all six tests. The other retailers all had at least one that passed the testing. 

The Washington Post points out that since dietary supplements aren't considered food or drugs, they are loosely regulated. 

"Federal guidelines require companies ensure that their products are safe and accurately labeled, but the FDA has little power to enforce that rule."

In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services urged the FDA to require supplement manufacturers to adhere to the same scrutiny as regulated drugs. 

But for now, the FDA's hands are tied. A 1994 federal law exempts supplements from the FDA's approval process.

In response, Walgreens has agreed to remove the products from stores nationwide, Wal-Mart and GNC said they both plan to cooperate and Target had not yet commented.

This video includes an image from Getty Images.