The New York State attorney general’s office issued subpoenas to four major retailers on Wednesday demanding that they provide evidence for a variety of health claims printed on the labels of the dietary supplements sold in their New York stores. The subpoenas were sent as part of an investigation into store-brand herbal supplements carried at Walgreens, Walmart, GNC and Target.
The attorney general’s office announced last week that it had conducted tests on 78 bottles of top-selling medicinal herbs at the four retailers and discovered that four out of five did not contain the ingredients advertised on their labels.
The office said that the products appeared in many cases to contain powdered rice, wheat and ground-up houseplants.
After a threat of legal action from the attorney general, the four retailers agreed to remove the products from New York shelves.
A spokeswoman for New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, declined to comment on the subpoenas. But a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation, who was not authorized to discuss the case, said the subpoenas demanded that the four retailers provide evidence of how they would prove the authenticity of their product claims.
Ginkgo biloba supplements sold at Target, for example, carried a claim that the products supported “concentration, memory and peripheral circulation, enhancing blood flow to the arms, legs and brain.” At GNC, a line of saw palmetto supplements promised to “support healthy prostate function.” And Walmart’s Spring Valley brand of echinacea supplements were promoted for “healthy immune function.”
Under a 1994 federal law, makers of supplements are allowed to make general health claims on their products, but they cannot imply that the products are able to prevent or treat disease. Companies are also required to identify all of the ingredients in a product on its label.