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NYAG Targets Devil’s Claw Supplements, Industry Responds

Celadrin

On September 9, New York Attorney General (NYAG) Eric Schneiderman sent cease-and-desist letters to 13 companies that sell devil’s claw herbal dietary supplements informing them that their products containing devil’s claw material were tested at the New York Botanical Garden using DNA technology. The results showed that the devil’s claw was a different botanical species than what was labeled, and what the NYAG termed a “less desirable” species of the herb.

According to the American Botanical Council (ABC), in botanical classification and nomenclature, devil’s claw is usually known scientifically by its Latin name, Harpagophytum procumbens, where Harpagophytum is the genus of the plant and procumbens refers to the species of the plant. The DNA-barcoding tests commissioned by the NYAG showed that some herbal supplements actually contain Harpagophytum zeyheri, a slightly different form of devil’s claw, i.e., a different, but very closely related species. In effect, they are like two siblings.

In botanical classification and nomenclature, devil’s claw is usually known scientifically by its Latin name, Harpagophytum procumbens, where Harpagophytum is the genus of the plant and procumbens refers to the species of the plant. The DNA-barcoding tests commissioned by the NYAG showed that some herbal supplements actually contain Harpagophytum zeyheri, a slightly different form of devil’s claw, i.e., a different, but very closely related species. In effect, they are like two siblings.

“Both species of devil’s claw have a similar chemical profile,” said Thomas Brendler, a medicinal plant expert and editor of the African Herbal Pharmacopeia, a compilation of technical information of various African medicinal plants, including their botany, growing conditions, range of habitat, chemistry, and traditional and modern medicinal activities and uses.”

Brendler noted that while both species differ marginally in shape and chemical composition, both are considered equally effective.

“We sincerely appreciate Attorney General Schneiderman’s interest in the quality of herbal materials sold in dietary supplements and his apparent desire to help consumers maintain access to high-quality, safe, and effective herbal products,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC.

“We here at ABC have a similar mission, as evidenced by our long-time efforts in the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program in which we have been working on educating industry and all relevant stakeholders about quality issues in the global herbal market,” he continued. “However, splitting the devil’s claw genus in the very narrow way that they have done in this investigation is akin to splitting hairs—it has no real meaning or value to anyone, particularly the herb consumer.”

“Supply chain integrity is of the utmost importance to the dietary supplement industry,” said Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), in a statement. “There are multiple ways to qualify the supply chain, to identify ingredients, and to detect adulterants in products. The companies involved should be permitted to defend their methods of ingredient testing and to justify their use of particular species of botanicals before being declared to be misbranded or adulterated by the New York attorney general.”

“The federal law for dietary supplements requires that what’s in the bottle is on the label. Proper identification of ingredients is a requirement of federal law and we expect all companies to stand behind the quality of their products,” Mister continued. “As we have seen before, investigations by the New York Attorney General’s office are rarely as clear-cut as they might seem.”

For more information, visit www.herbalgram.org or www.crnusa.org.