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Herbal fakery

(article, Culinate staff)

No, herbal supplements aren't food. But given their notorious inability to actually contain the ingredients their labels claim to possess, they may soon be regulated like food by the FDA.

A recent Canadian study used DNA testing to identify substances in a variety of herbal supplements, and concluded that many supplements not only didn't contain the substances listed on the label, they didn't contain anything but fillers such as rice. The DNA testing technique, known as bar-coding, has been used to document mislabeling and fraud in herbal teas and, most prominently, in seafood.

"Of 44 herbal supplements tested, one-third showed outright substitution, meaning there was no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle — only another plant in its place," wrote Anahad O'Connor in the New York Times. Some of those substitutions can be toxic, such as swapping in Actaea asiatica for black cohosh.

"Policing the supplement industry is a special challenge," wrote O'Connor. "The FDA requires that companies test the products they sell to make sure that they are safe. But the system essentially operates on the honor code. Unlike prescription drugs, supplements are generally considered safe until proved otherwise."