Plaintiffs Seek Consolidation Of Supplement Lawsuits

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Lawsuits nationwide aimed at the absence of listed ingredients in herbal supplements are appealing to federal judges for consolidation into multidistrict litigation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - A group of lawsuits aimed at companies that sold misrepresented herbal supplements is seeking to consolidate the cases into multidistrict litigation. The nationwide class action suit brought against the supplement retailers claim their arguments would be best heard before a single judge, and their the cases are all share common questions of fact that would be best served in multidistrict litigation. Four separate requests to consolidate lawsuits against the four companies involved, GNC, Target, Walgreens and Wal-Mart, took place between February 12-18.

The lawsuits stem from a cease and desist order sent by New York Attorney General Eric Schneidermann on February 2 to GNC, Walgreens, Target and Wal-Mart ordering them to stop selling their misbranded herbal supplements. The supplements in question are the store brand offerings of echinacea, garlic, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John‘s wort, and valerian root.

These supplements were often replaced with a range of filler ingredients that contained non of the listed ingredients. Tests showed that 79 percent of the herbal supplements available at the retailers listed in the lawsuits contained no DNA related to the advertised ingredients. Further testing found that Wal-Mart had the worst track record when it came to the percentage of their supplements that actually included the listed ingredients. Only 4 percent of their supplement product held DNA related to the ingredients listed. Walgreens was next in line with 18 percent, followed by GNS at 22 percent and finally Target at 41 percent.

The cease and desist letter was not the first mention of supplement fabrication as previous studies conduced over a year ago found these practices taking place. The cease and desist letter voiced frustration over the manufacturers inability to restore their products in the time since those findings.

Each retailer sells the supplements under a different name brand: GNC‘s suuplements are sold under "Herbal Plus," Target under "Up & Up," Wal-Mart under "Spring Valley," and Walgreens under "Finest Nutrition." Common fillers for the supplements in the pills included rice, beans and ground up house plants. In some of the supplement bottles, not only were no traces of the supplement found, but no plant DNA of any kind was present in the supplement pills.

In New York where the Attorney General filed the cease and desist order, most of the companies involved have pulled the supplements from their inventory. However in other states the misrepresented supplements have remained on the shelf. One of the issues in policing the ingredients in herbal supplements is that they are not screened by the FDA until a problem is reported. The lack of testing allows for retailers to market false products without immediate recourse from any regulating agency.

In addition to the supplements including no listed active ingredients, a more serious symptom of the misrepresentation of the products is what is used in its place. Wheat, legumes and soybeans are just a few of the ingredients found in the herbal supplements that went unlisted and could cause serious allergic reactions for customers.

Plaintiffs are expecting to hear decisions on whether their lawsuits will be consolidated in May at the earliest.