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Using Genetics to Uncover What's in Nutritional Supplements

Nutritional supplements firm GNC has reached a deal with the New York State attorney general's office to do more stringent testing of ingredients in its products, including the use of genetic testing. 

In a statement on Monday, GNC emphasizes that all of its relevant products were in compliance with the Food and Drug Administration's "Current Good Manufacturing Practices" and are "safe, pure, properly labeled and in full compliance with all regulatory requirements." 

A New York Times piece, though, says that the agreement between the firm and the New York AG's office comes after the office accused GNC and three other major retailers of selling herbal supplements that "were fraudulent or contaminated with unlisted ingredients that" could harm consumers. GNC will implement additional quality control measures during the next 18 months "to restore the trust of its customers and set new standards for the rest of the industry," NYT says.

GNC will use advanced DNA testing to confirm the presence of plants that are used in its store-brand herbal supplements and will test the products for the presence of allergens, such as tree nuts, soy, and wheat. 

In its statement, GNC says that it "will expand its testing processes deeper into its supply chain by leading ongoing industry efforts to integrate source material traceability standards, including DNA barcoding where appropriate (prior to extraction processes) and enhance certain other aspects of its operations to provide consumers even greater confidence in its products." 

The settlement follows an investigation by the AG's office that found that 78 bottles of popular store-brand herbal supplements from GNC, Walmart, Target, and Walgreen's across New York state contained no genetic materials from plants advertised on their labels, NYT says. The AG used DNA testing as part of the process. 

The AG's office did find, however, evidence of unlisted plants and other ingredients in the supplements. The industry has responded to the accusations by saying that herbal extracts would not contain DNA from the advertised plants as DNA would be damaged in the manufacturing and extraction process. 

The New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declined to comment to NYT whether his office is in similar talks to settle with  Walmart, Target, and Walgreen's.