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Why Does ConsumerLab Refuse to Answer Our Questions?

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We asked them about their dubious business practices, but we have received nothing but stony silence in return. Help us learn what they may be hiding—Action Alert!

Over the last few years, we’ve raised questions about the business practices of ConsumerLab.com, an organization that purports to help consumers identify the highest quality dietary supplements.

As we’ve reported before, our sources tell us that ConsumerLab.com (CL) approaches dietary supplement makers and asks them to enroll in its “voluntary” testing program—for a fee. CL doesn’t publicly disclose its fee schedule, but we were told that one company was charged over $4,000 to test a single product. We also understand that companies that pay the fee are guaranteed that if one of their products passes the testing under their Voluntary Certification Program, it gets listed on the site and may carry the CL Seal of Approval—and if it fails the testing, the product will not be identified publicly because the results are “proprietary to the manufacturer”!

Companies that do not agree to pay for the voluntary certification program risk having their products tested anyway through the firm’s “product review program.” If they fail the test, those failures will be publicized on CL’s website and 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.”

Unfortunately, our efforts to verify all the facts and get an explanation have not been answered. We sent the following letter to CL a year ago, asking them to address some of these issues:

We represent Alliance for Natural Health USA (“ANH-USA”), which questions, inter alia, the validity of using the amount of time it takes for a product to disintegrate in water as a measure of quality when the stomach does not use water to digest products. ANH-USA is concerned that CL employs questionable methods to evaluate products and is acting out of financial self-interest while proclaiming that its “mission is to help consumer and health professionals identify high quality products” [emphasis in original].

A responsible public interest organization dedicated to ensuring quality in the market should have no problem accounting for its methods. On behalf of ANH-USA, we therefore pose the following questions to you:

1. 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?

2. 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”?

3. How does withholding information from the public about failing products “help consumers and professionals identify high quality products”?

4. What selection criteria do you employ to choose a product for a Product Review? Please also explain in detail how you use survey results to select products. If some products are chosen at random, please explain the randomization process.

5. Prior to finalizing the list of products that you will test under a Product Review, do you notify companies that their products are under consideration for inclusion, and, if so, do you provide them an opportunity to have their products tested through CL’s Quality Certification Program instead?

6. How does the price for product testing through CL’s Quality Certification Program compare to the price of product testing through a third-party laboratory that does not release Product Reviews to paying members? Is it higher?

7. On CL’s website, www.consumerlab.com, you acknowledge that “[t]he FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (‘GMPs’) for dietary supplements allow each manufacturer to determine the quality standards and analytical methods it uses to evaluate the quality of its products.” Nevertheless, you claim that even if a product complies with GMPs, it can still be of low quality. For example, you state that “[s]ome choose to use less specific standards and/or lenient test methods that can make a low quality product appear to be high quality.”

You further claim that your standards are better, stating: “We adopt the most meaningful and strict standards based on the latest international research and recommendations.” What evidence can you provide to demonstrate that your quality criteria/standards and tests are generally accepted in the scientific community as sufficient to determine definitively a product’s quality?

Further, what evidence can you provide that your tests are appropriate for each product that you evaluate, and how do you, or the laboratories that you use, account for confounding factors, if at all, such as ingredients that either mask or magnify test results?

8. Which laboratories do you use to test products and what evidence do you possess that their testing methods and results are competent, reliable, and reproducible?

We look forward to receiving your prompt response within 30 days after the date of this letter. ANH-USA intends to publish a copy of this letter within the next several months along with any response you send.

ConsumerLab has yet to respond to these concerns.

Action Alert! Write to your state’s attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and ask them to investigate the business practices of ConsumerLab.com. Please send your message immediately!

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