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Supplement Critic Exposed as Fraud

Supplement Critic Exposed as Fraud
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Investigations reveal that a study used by state Attorneys General to attack supplements is a sham, along with its lead author. Action Alert!

The investigation, led by the publication Science, provides incredible detail not just about the fraudulent and inaccurate study purporting to show that supplements do not contain what their labels say, but about the lead author himself, Steven Newmaster.

Newmaster’s paper was picked up by many major news outlets at the time and prompted actions by New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and, later, 13 other Attorneys General. The findings of the paper would be troubling had they been true. Newmaster and his colleagues used DNA barcoding to test a number of herbal supplements; most products that were tested were purportedly found to contain different plants than advertised, contain inert fillers, or were supposedly tainted with contaminants that could cause serious health problems.

Now, experts in the field of DNA barcoding allege that this 2013 paper is a fraud. Science reports on a letter sent by these experts to the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada where Newmaster works as a botanist. According to Science, the letter details major problems with the paper. The letter states that “data which underpin [the paper is] missing, fraudulent, or plagiarized,” and that Newmaster “recurrently failed to disclose competing financial interests” in his papers. Science’s investigation went even deeper, finding Newmaster’s entire career to be rife with “apparent fabrication, data manipulation, and plagiarism in speeches, teaching, biographies, and scholarly writing.” 

The fraudulent paper allowed Newmaster and his colleagues to launch a lucrative business to conduct DNA barcoding for supplement companies in order to obtain, in Newmaster’s words, “a competitive advantage as they could advertise that they produce an authentic, high-quality product.” How convenient, to offer a solution to the problem they identified: make a big splash by “exposing” contaminated supplements, then offer to certify products as uncontaminated for a fee. Despite these business ventures, Newmaster never claimed competing interests when publishing papers on supplement DNA barcoding.

The plan seemed to work. Feeling the pressure to validate their ingredients when state Attorneys General offices launched investigative probes, major retailers like Nature’s Way, Herbalife Nutrition, and Jamieson hired Newmaster’s companies to validate their ingredients.

We knew this was a sham from the beginning. ANH reported on a response to Newmaster’s paper showing why DNA barcoding is not a reliable means for testing the contents of herbal dietary supplements because, among other things, DNA can be destroyed during processing without altering a supplement’s effects.

Unfortunately, once studies like Newmaster’s are out in the world, the bell can’t be unrung; the damage to supplements’ reputation is already done. We still have prominent members of Congress who believe supplements are dangerous and need more regulation despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. We’ve been telling you about Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) attempts to institute a mandatory filing requirement for supplements, and the proposal seems to be gaining steam. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stated publicly that she wants mandatory filing requirements for supplements. Sen. Murray’s position as HELP Chair means this proposal could be rapidly ushered through the committee. President Biden’s nominee to head the FDA, Robert Califf, MD, has also voiced his support for additional regulation of supplements.

Our previous coverage details the threat a mandatory filing proposal represents to supplement access. For starters, the National Institutes of Health already has a supplement label database, so mandatory filing requirements would be duplicative. But the main threat is the way that mandatory filing requirements would interplay with other FDA regulations, particularly the “new supplement” regulations that have not yet been completed. Mandatory filing requirements would give the FDA an easy way to seek out supplements that are not in compliance with the very problematic “new supplement” guidance and remove those products from the market. As we’ve explained previously, this guidance is a power grab by the FDA in that it creates a drug-like pre-approval system for “new” supplements when the law simply called for a notification system for these products. According to an economic analysis, this could mean thousands of supplements are threatened.

We can’t let this policy move forward.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and voice your opposition to mandatory filing requirements for supplements. Please send your message immediately.

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