The states are getting their respective acts together. This report today:
A group of attorneys general is expected to announce on Tuesday that they are forming a coalition to crack down on fraud and quality control issues in the herbal supplement industry.
The coalition would signal a shift in the way law enforcement agencies ensure the safety of herbal supplements, a $5 billion-a-year industry that has been plagued by complaints of mislabeling. An investigation by the New York State attorney general’s office led to accusations last month that four national retailers were selling supplements that contained either little or none of the medicinal herbs advertised on their labels or, in many cases, included cheap fillers and contaminants like powdered rice, wheat and houseplants.
The retailers — GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens — were forced to pull the products from their shelves. The state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, later issued subpoenas to the manufacturers of the products, demanding that they explain how they verify the quality of their products and what testing they do to support a variety of claims on their labels, like “gluten free” and “hypoallergenic.”
Critics of the industry have argued that the Food and Drug Administration does not have enough power to keep fraudulent or dangerous products from reaching store shelves. The F.D.A. is restricted by a 1994 federal law — sponsored by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, who has strong financial ties to the industry — that prevents it from subjecting supplements to the strict approval process applied to prescription drugs.
As a result, unsafe herbal products generally are pulled from stores only after they have caused harm. But Dr. Arthur P. Grollman, an expert on herbal supplements at Stony Brook University, said he believed that greater action at the state level might pressure the supplement industry to address some of its safety issues.
Dr. Grollman was among the experts who more than a decade ago led calls for a ban on ephedra, an herbal supplement that was linked to many heart attacks, strokes and deaths. The F.D.A. eventually banned ephedra in 2004, only after several states and counties had introduced legislation outlawing its sale in their local stores.