Washington, D.C.—At the end of May, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) made public some information about 40 herbal supplements it had secretly tested to see whether they contained too much heavy metals (per rules outlined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency). The levels of heavy metals found weren’t considered dangerous, though 16 contained traces of pesticides that were too high. While FDA officials stated in an article printed in The New York Times that it was not worried about the safety of the supplements under scrutiny, many articles have come out indicating the supplements are not safe and should be further regulated.
Part of the reported indicated retailers were making illegal product claims in selling their supplements to investigators posing as customers. “They also described a salesperson at a supplement specialty store who claimed that a garlic supplement could be taken instead of blood pressure medication,” the May 25 article stated. Written materials from online vendors also offered inappropriate information about the supplements’ ability to cure diseases and nine of the supplements made illegal claims on their packaging.
In a statement made by the Natural Products Association (NPA), executive director and CEO John Gay stated, “If a retail salesperson is misleading customers, offering medical diagnoses, or making drug claims about supplements, then that is a violation of the law—no ifs, ands, or buts.”
To help retailers discern what they can and cannot say in stores, the NPA said it would create a tool kit designed to help stores train their staff about customer education and would make a new Web page dedicated to training materials for retailers and sales personnel. The NPA said it would already expand training efforts at tradeshows and in webinars and teleconferences. Also, expect additional outreach from NPA to salespeople about appropriate ways to talk about the benefits of dietary supplements.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine Online, June 1, 2010