Yet the company still fails to answer the most serious questions we’ve raised. Why is CL continuing to avoid them? Action Alert!
Over the last few years, we’ve raised numerous concerns about the business practices of ConsumerLab.com (CL), an organization that purports to help consumers identify the highest quality dietary supplements. CL responded to our articles with a letter demanding we retract those articles—which we refused to do—and attacked ANH-USA on its website in an effort to “correct” what CL feels is “misinformation” about its business. In 2014 we sent a letter to CL asking eight very pointed questions about their business practices. We still haven’t received a response to our questions. Surely two years is long enough for the company to respond?
CL provides two main services, the Quality Certification Program and the Product Review Program.
- The Quality Certification Program is a voluntary service for supplement companies to pay to have their products tested by CL. Here’s our understanding of how it works: companies paying the fee are guaranteed that if one of their products passes the testing under the Quality Certification Program, it gets listed on the site and may carry the CL Seal of Approval—and if it fails the testing, that product at that time will not be identified to CL’s members or the public because the results are “proprietary to the manufacturer”!
- Companies that do not agree to pay for the Quality Certification Program risk having their products tested anyway through the firm’s Product Review Program, where CL reviews products for its dues-paying members. If a product fails the test, the failure will be published on CL’s website for its members and potentially in the media, with complete details for sale in CL’s Product Review Technical Reports.
This arrangement sounds to us like, “Pay up, and you won’t have to worry about the results. Don’t pay up, and you may be exposed to bad publicity.”
Our three biggest issues, which we raised in our letter to CL:
- We asked, “Is it true that if a company does not pay to have a product tested through CL’s Quality Certification Program, it risks having that product tested through CL’s Product Reviews? And is it true that if a product fails a Product Review, its failure will be publicized in CL’s member reports?” CL said, “We do not publicize a product’s failure on our site”—quite an astonishing statement given that CL demonstrably does make the details about product failures available for sale through their website. According to the “Answers” page of CL’s website, the identities of products that fail are published “exclusively for [CL’s] members and subscribers after signing in to the ConsumerLab.com website.” Yet this members-only information has been picked up in national media stories. Has CL published this information or used it effectively to “hold up” those who fail to pay the fee for its Quality Certification Program? You can decide for yourself.
- We also asked, “Is it true that if a company pays to have a product tested through CL’s Quality Certification Program and its product fails, those results will be hidden from CL’s member reports on the grounds that those tests are ‘proprietary to the manufacturer’?” As a follow up question, we asked, “How does withholding information from the public about failing products ‘help consumers and professionals identify high quality products’?” We still haven’t seen any response from CL on these matters, which seem to us to be vital concerns.
- We asked CL about the quality standards they use to test products which, they boast, are better than the current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs) needed to comply with FDA regulations. We asked them to provide evidence to demonstrate that their quality standards/criteria are generally accepted in the scientific community, sufficient to determine definitively a product’s quality, and appropriate for each product they evaluate.
Here’s an example of how CL’s handling of this third issue is dramatically at variance with standard practices: ANH-USA disputed CL’s claim that a product failed because it did not adhere to the US Pharmacopeia’s (USP) standard of a thirty-minute disintegration time. We noted that one company established its own disintegration time of sixty minutes for relevant products, which met with FDA’s approval. This was deemed a “false” statement by CL, which contended that
If a product does not comply with the USP standard, the manufacturer must indicate this on the label of the product….The [multivitamin product] which was Not Approved by [CL]…provides no indication on its label that it does not meet the USP requirement nor that [the company] applies its own standard.
In our reading of the law, CL is simply incorrect. USP’s own website states that the organization’s standards are voluntary. Nowhere does it say—in either FDA’s cGMP guidelines, or in DSHEA, the landmark Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994—that there is a requirement to note a difference from USP disintegration times on the product’s label. This makes point number one above even more egregious: companies that don’t pay the fee to have their product tested risk having that product tested anyway—by questionable standards.
To be clear: as a consumer organization (and no, CL, we are not a front for industry, as your website implies), our issue with CL is not that they make product failures known to their members, but that there is an implied pressure on companies to voluntarily pay CL’s fee or else risk having products tested anyway (using questionable standards at undisclosed labs), and then having any failures made known to their members—or broadcast even more widely.
The three points above highlight the fact that on major, substantive issues regarding their business, CL refuses to respond directly to legitimate questions and instead appears to attempt to create a smokescreen by responding to different charges—or by creating red herrings, leveling charges of their own against ANH-USA.
You can find our tips for purchasing high-quality supplements here. You can also visit our Supplement Fact Check page to get the latest news on supplements.
Action Alert! Write to your state’s attorney general and the FTC and ask them to investigate the business practices of ConsumerLab.com. Please send your message immediately.