434 – NOW Lab Tests Find Amazon Sells Cheap, Sub-standard and Adulterated Supplements

FDA and Amazon Fail to Respond

434 - NOW Lab Tests Find Amazon Sells Cheap, Sub-standard an Adulterated Supplements

NOTE: See Full Transcript Below

My personal opinion is that this is fraud!

This interview with Neil E. Levin covers the significant testing of finished products sold online. Amazon and others sell supplement products that are illegal and fraudulent. What else can we call it? NOW has tested many products and many have been found to have numerous significant problems. These products are then sold to an unsuspecting consumer that trusts that the supplements are what they claim to be. Amazon knows this. The FDA knows this. Yet both fail to take action.

This problems include but not limited to:

  • Many do not contain the potency stated on the label.
  • Many are mislabeled.
  • Many contain ingredients not listed on the label.
  • Many are contaminated with heavy metals

Following excerpt is provided by NOW:

NOW tests various supplement brands sold on Amazon and finds many fail for potency and other quality issues.

In 2017, NOW started its award-winning industry self-policing program of testing unfamiliar brands found on Amazon. The program tests high-value products sold by emerging brands on Amazon at both internal and external labs, evaluating the results compared to label claims.

The goal is to provide consumers with knowledge on quality and testing of supplements so they can make informed purchases. When buying supplements for health and wellness, you should feel confident that what’s on the label is in the bottle, which is why NOW heavily invests in in-house testing labs and third-party testing and certifications to ensure customers of quality.

Supplement Category Testing Results

The following are supplement categories in which NOW purchased a variety of products from different brands sold on Amazon and tested them along with our own products. You can read the results of each category testing via the links below.

Visit nowfoods.com for continued updates.

Award-Winning Testing

In 2022, NOW’s VP of Sales and Marketing Dan Richard, also a family owner of NOW, was recognized as Person of the Year: The Amazon.com Quality Activists for his significant efforts in quality testing. WholeFoods Magazine awarded this to Richard to shine a light on those who have taken a stand to help ensure quality and transparency, and in the process, to protect and support the independent natural products retailers, who helped build this industry long before online sales started to capture market share.

In June 2021, NOW received the NutraIngredients-USA Editors Award for Industry Initiative of the Year for shining a light on quality problems with some supplements sold on Amazon. Results of NOW’s systematic testing of select high-value products on Amazon received widespread trade media coverage, and other organizations began investigations. At the end of 2020, Amazon announced strict new requirements for supplement sellers and fine-tuned them with industry feedback. While Amazon has not stated that NOW’s exposé was the impetus, the timing suggests a correlation.

Also in 2021, NOW received the Nutrition Business Journal Award: Efforts on Behalf of Industry for the role played in getting Amazon to pass new requirements for supplement vendors. End excerpt.

Neil E. Levin

Click Here for a list of all NOW interviews.

Neil E. Levin

Neil E. Levin is the Senior Nutrition Education Manager and a product formulator for NOW®. He is a board-certified clinical nutritionist with a diplomat in advanced nutritional laboratory assessment. The U.S. Natural Products Association (NPA) presented Neil its Industry Champion Award in 2008 for “people who have made notable individual contributions to the natural products industry above and beyond what is expected to achieve commercial success.” Neil’s interviews and articles are published in magazines and newspapers. He has been featured in many radio interviews and television news reports. Neil blogs at www.honestnutrition.com; is on Facebook (Honest Nutrition) and Twitter




Testing, supplement, label, lab, Neil E Levin, Amazon, dietary supplements, fraud, adulteration, mislabeled, contaminated, FDA regulation, NOW


Neil E. Levin, Steve Lankford

Introduction  00:09

Hello, and welcome to Health Quest dedicated to nutrition and your good health. Support for Health Quest has been provided by some of America’s best nutritional companies and now Health Quest with your host, Steve Lankford.

Steve Lankford  00:30

Hello and welcome back to Health Quest podcast. I’m your host, Steve Lankford. Thanks for joining me, I’m glad you’re here; this is going to be a very interesting discussion. This is something I’ve had an interest in for a long time. And that is the problem of poor quality products, supplement products in the marketplace. We’ve talked about it for years here on Health Quest podcast.com. And I still think a lot of people don’t get it, they assume that if it’s for sale, it’s got to be safe. It’s got to be what it says it is. It’s got to be pure. All of the things that we’ve come to expect from a good quality supplement product. We expect everything that’s for sale in the marketplace is going to live up to those standards. Unfortunately, the truth is something very different from that.

And so today I’m going to be talking with Neil e live in Neil was with this just in our last podcast, we were talking about NOW Foods and we were describing NOW Foods as a greater than 50 year old company, a family owned company that started back in the late 1960s. When health food stores were thought of as places where quacks and health nuts and food faddist would go to buy their dubious supplies, there was a lot of disparagement of natural products and healthy foods. Well, that has changed big time to the point that maybe by far most people are taking some kind of supplement, maybe most of them are trying to even eat healthier. So we’ll explore some of that today with Neil. But our particular focus is going to be on these challenges in the marketplace for nutritional supplements.

How do you know that the supplement you’re buying is what it says it is? How do you know if it’s pure? If it’s safe? Is it manufactured with good quality ingredients? How do you know that when you pick a product off of drugstore shelf, or buy it from Amazon or any of the other online sellers, can you trust? What’s in the marketplace today? How do you know? People like me have a suspicion that it’s not all the same good quality that we’ve come to expect, like the products that we bought in health food stores for decades now. So is there a real problem? And how do we know you and I can’t go test these products, we have to assume that the gatekeepers that people who are selling it to us have done their due diligence and have done their homework, and are only selling products that they can stand behind. Because they’re familiar with the companies and their processes and their certifications and their analyses of their products, all of these things that go into assuring that you’ve got a good safe quality product.

By contrast, listen to the previous interview I did with Neil, where we talked about what NOW Foods does their 100 million dollar laboratory, their 150 employees who work in the laboratory and scientific settings of NOW Foods, huge commitment at something that I am wonderfully pleased to be able to have told you about because that’s another thing that a lot of us don’t know about is what goes on behind the scenes of a good company. So we’ll contrast today, what we learn about what’s in the marketplace. And how do we know with those standards set by NOW Foods and many of the other good companies in the natural products industry. So we’re here to paint this picture for you so that hopefully, you’ll have a basis for being cautious Buyer beware. But also knowing that there are good quality products in the marketplace. You just have to identify the companies that sell those products like NOW, and then you can explore their whole catalog because they bring those standards to the lines that they create. So it’s in that capacity. I’m pleased to introduce to you once again, Neil E. Levin. Neil, welcome back to Health Quest Podcast.

Neil E Levin  04:55

I’m glad to be back with you and with all of your listeners. Thank you

Steve Lankford  04:59

Well Thank you. And we have done 14 interviews in the past exploring all kinds of topics relative to health and nutrition specific products and actions that people can take to be healthier. And all of those previous interviews are accessible on HealthQuestPodcast.com, just go to the tag index and look for NOW, or look for Neil, and select that and you’ll get access to all of those interviews, they’re still there. They’re still just as valuable and viable as the when we recorded them. So today, Neil, we won’t go into the background of NOW or your history, it’s all available, and people can listen to that previous interview.

Today, I want to talk about what NOW has been doing relative to this challenge that you have identified in the marketplace and have actually done something about it. I’ve read your reports that you’ve issued the press releases on what you’ve found. So let’s start the discussion with what are the identified challenges in the marketplace of dietary supplements, that you felt compelled to go out and do some of this, study this research this analysis on your own nickel, tell us about the problem as you perceive it?

Neil E Levin  06:23

What we found was we had some what we consider unfair competition from other brands on amazon.com, and other channels, but mostly Amazon. And about five years ago, six years ago, we started testing some of the really no name brands that were sold virtually only on Amazon, and they had prices potencies too good to be true.

Steve Lankford  06:51

What do you mean by that? Let’s talk about that. What does that meet too good to be true?

Neil E Levin  06:56

But one example at the first one we did was Coenzyme Q10, known as CoQ10, and 400 milligram and a dry capsule. Now we make that in a soft gel. And the reason we make it in a soft gel was it was not able to be formulated in a dry capsule, the materials too sticky to run on encapsulation machines at that strength and concentration. So it didn’t seem to be realistic. So one, one thing was if we test it, we can see to someone else figure out how to do something that we couldn’t with our decades of experience and all these experts and all of our capabilities. So we tested four different CoQ10 products, each from two suspect brands that were seeming to match our soft gel potency at a better price. And all of them failed miserably. They didn’t have the amount of CoQ10 in there that they promised on the label.

So since then, we’ve done a round of testing on a number of other products. magnesium glycinate is one not only CoQ10, which we’ve done several times, but we’re certain which has been used for immunity very important during the pandemic glutathione, which is something that increases the antioxidants in the body by providing this nutrient and it’s something that again, has a role in immunity, as well as many other aspects of the body. We tested curcumin and turmeric products. We tested phosphor title serine, we tested acetyl l carnitine. We tested Alpha Lipoic Acid. And we also tested SAMe, S-adenosyl-L-methionine. And a lot of these are fairly expensive materials, not necessarily the magnesium, but a lot of the other ones. And there’s kind of an economic incentive to be able to cheat and offer something that’s not quite what the label is saying.

So we’ve tested over 170 products from these competitive brands these lesser known brands sold primarily on Amazon. We’ve tested them for potency and quality, and products consistently fall below the label claims some products contain high levels of heavy metals, some are contaminated with synthetic ingredients. There’s some cheating in terms of labeling going on how things are claimed on the labels. So one thing that your listeners should be aware of is that these products are tested twice. We test them in our own labs which are independently certified as meeting the same ISO the International Standards Organization or criteria for an independent lab.

So we have the same certification as a third party lab, contract lab, and we are allowed to export to any country in the world with our certification without having to send it to an outside lab. We have that level of competence, that level of oversight, that we are as competent as any lab in the world. So there is no question there, our testing is good. But because we’re sending out competitors’ products, we wanted to bracket that and send it to a well-known outside lab, Euro Fins, which people who are familiar with the testing industry will recognize that name, Euro fence also tested these and came out with virtually the same results as our labs. So that not only validates our own in house testing, but it gives us another level of assurance that the testing we’re doing and the publicity we’re giving to this testing is going to be legitimate, because remember, we’re one company questioning competitor products, that has legal and public relations pitfalls if you don’t do it, right.

So we wanted to do everything legitimately, we wanted to have confirmation from a third party lab, and have everything figured out before we went public with any of this. So because we are taking a risk that exposing these practices of competitors, you know, they could always sue us, they could always say we don’t know what we’re doing that we’re have a profit motive to complain about their products, and having that independent lab. Also testing and confirming our results is a good way to make sure that what we’re doing is going to be the right thing and that we’re don’t come out with truthful, accurate information.

So we were very careful to do that. And one of the other problems we found was that some of the testing, they’re claiming vegetarian products, and they’re putting them in gelatin capsules. So I mean, this is fraudulent stuff that we’re talking about, it’s not just not enough of the material in there for label claims, some of the strengths are fudged, and the label where it’s misleading. But also, they’re actually claiming things that aren’t true, like, claiming they’re vegan friendly when they’re not. So we’re very concerned about people, these bad actors who are doing these things, and are not being controlled by the FDA, who have the tools to do that they have enforcement tools, but they haven’t really been going after these companies, and even Amazon, after we did a round or two of these tests and publicize them. They said that the company’s selling supplements on their web page and their platform, had to come out with certified lab results with a certificate of analysis from an from a certified lab. But if you’re fudging your results and claiming things that are misleading, for example, if you’re putting turmeric root in something and claiming it’s the extract instead, yeah, that’s not really a label claim that consumers are going to get what they’re paying for. Or if it says 400 milligrams of Co Q 10 and their claiming it’s a complex that has 400 milligrams that contains some Co Q 10 some of these things sound legitimate, but they’re not. And the regulators should be able to screen these. And frankly, we’re kind of disappointed that Amazon has not been stronger in screening these things off their webpage, even with their new requirements, and that the FDA has not stepped in, because we’ve also notified the FDA of some of these things that we thought were might harm consumers.

I mean, one example would be misleading labels. Sure, but another one would be giving a product that has an allergen or giving the people were buying a vegan product, giving them gelatin when they don’t know it, which could violate religious as well as dietary restrictions. We thought these were important enough to notify authorities on and we still don’t see action. So we’re stepping up we wish some other entity would do this. We wish that the FDA would do this or some independent organization. Without that in place we’re taking the risk, we’re doing the expense. And we’re doing this to try to clean up the industry. This is self-policing, in essence by the dietary supplement industry, rather than relying on someone else to do this, because no one else seems to be doing this.

Steve Lankford  14:37

Wow, you just covered so much there, kind of hard to know where to start because it’s so large of a problem with so many different facets. Let’s start with the myth. Seems like it should be a myth, but it seems like it’s also reality. Many people say dietary supplements are unregulated. It’s we’ve heard it for how many decades now that that’s the case. And that’s why you can’t trust supplements. It’s why we went to battle with the FDA back in the 90s and passed the legislation called DSHEA, I thought DSHEA was going to set this in motion that the supplements would be regulated; they would be regulated by the FDA. And yet here we are more than 25 years later, almost 30 years later. And we still have this problem. What is the story that from your perspective of the FDA, and its failure to act in this case? What’s your take on that?

Neil E Levin  15:44

they kind of have a strange attitude in my mind about dietary supplements. They regulate supplements, but they’re really used to regulating drugs. And because we sell capsules, and pills and bottles that look like drugs, a lot of people think they need to be regulated exactly like drugs pre-market approval of every product notification to the FDA of every item that’s on the market, when actually by law, dietary supplements are regulated as a special food category, we have a lot more regulations than other foods. And so in fact, there are regulations against mislabeling against adulterating against having the things that we found there against the law.

But the problem is enforcement, there doesn’t seem to be a big will in the FDA to enforce the regulations that they have put in place that they’ve been authorized by Congress to put in place that they have actually implemented over the years. And they just don’t have the enforcement mojo to be able to do that. It’s like if you had a strict law against speeding on the highway, and there’s no traffic cop, you think everyone’s going to go 55, or some people are going to be going 90 or 110. And without the cops to stop them. And to let people know that there’s some enforcement; people are just going to do whatever they want, and whatever they can get away with. It’s the same in industry. You know, you can’t blame the lack of regulation, when the regulations are in place; you have to blame a lack of enforcement.

And our industry for decades, has lobbied for more enforcement money to the FDA to actually enforce the laws and regulations in place. Rather than saying that we need more regulations to regulate these people. They want more authority, they want more money to regulate us, but they don’t want to audit and enforce. I mean, how hard is this to have some interns or something, to go on Amazon and screen things and test them or even order things and test them, it wouldn’t cost that much to do. But it requires somebody at FDA willing to do that. And there’s been a lot of management shuffles and lack of permanent oversight of the FDA within the Health and Human Services the FDA itself, but there hasn’t been a real strong management position for actually enforcing the regulations. But they keep asking for more and more, they want us to submit every label to them at a fee. And that’s going to actually give them a veto power. Because if you have to get a registration number as Senator Durbin’s legislation had recommended, then you’re going to be at the mercy of the FDA for every product you put on the market for foods. I mean, if you put out a new waffle, frozen waffle or if you put out a new box mix brownie mix or something, you don’t have to notify the FDA.

They want us to do that if we put out a new formula with vitamin C, or a new multivitamin with ingredients that have been well known for 100 years, the safety is well understood. So requiring us to jump through extra hoops because there are some categories of products that might be problematic is not reasonable. And to give the FDA veto power, I’m sure you’ve talked on your podcast about some of the things that the FDA was looking at banning, like N Acetyl Cysteine, NAC during the pandemic. Yes, they actually weren’t allowed to export it during the pandemic because the FDA would not give us the export papers, we needed to be able to export it to other countries that were looking for this important immune nutrient. Because the FDA was questioning whether it was legal to sell under some questionable theories, which they actually are now allowing, they actually would have the power to ban products, preemptively. If you sent them a label and they didn’t want to log it or approve it or issue a number under that legislation. We would not be allowed to sell it CBD would be on completely off the markets under that regime. If that was the case, there would be no CBD sold in the United States. So you can see how extreme that kind of mentality is that they need this power, this authority that they don’t have now, and they don’t have the manpower to do that they can’t even enforce the current laws.

Steve Lankford  20:21

Well, that’s the thing. They’re not even doing the regulations that they currently have, if they were to enforce the regulations that now exist for good supplement companies that would remove all of these other spurious products, if they actually did the enforcement, the way that the laws and the regulations are written. But it seems like there’s no will among the FDA to do that. And so we have to live with the reality on the ground, we can see from the last decade that they’re not going to be taking the kinds of actions that are needed to clean up the marketplace. And yet, all of these products, which are clearly outside the scope of a legally approved dietary supplement, and not approved by the FDA, but certainly, the way products are labeled. And the way the ingredients are allowed to be used certainly violates a lot of the principles that the FDA has laid down as regulation.

And you as a company, and all other good companies good supplement companies that I know of, they are complying with all of these regulations, the good manufacturing practices, and so on. And the other players aren’t being regulated. And so they get away with cheating, it’s basically putting products out there that are illegal. Well, we can complain about the FDA for a long time. And I don’t know that it’ll ever do any good. But we do have to watch out because they are attempting through various methods to restrict our access even more. So we have had some of those conversations here. And anybody who’s paying attention will hear about those. Let’s turn our attention to say the scope of the problem that you identified how many, by percentage, say of the products you tested, failed? And in what ways were these failures noted? Were they mostly about the potency of the ingredient? Are there other aspects about the supplement bottles that consumers might need to be aware of that could be at risk? You mentioned labeling, give us an overview of all of that you discovered

Neil E Levin  22:47

that for most of the testing we did, we found that the majority of products we tested failed in some way or another. Actually, there was one that we did, where we were actually surprised that most of the products did pass. And that’s the glutathione. And for some reason, a lot of them passed in terms of strength, only three of the 19 brands tested did not contain the potency claimed on the label. Because the results which have been characterized as dismal. For most of the other products we tested in this one category, it turned out most of them were pretty good. But there’s also deceptive labeling practices. There is excess of heavy metals in some products, there’s other contaminants in products. And that’s some of these are safety issues. Some of them are just consumer value, getting what you pay for you getting something that’s labeled correctly.

And the problem is the same brand that tested low and 2017 in our original set of testing, are still being sold on Amazon are still failing the testing. Isn’t that remarkable after five to six years, and we’re not getting feedback from Amazon on this, and we’re not getting feedback from the FDA from this when we’re submitting these results are testing and third party testing. And the FDA is not going to they have a policy where they’re not going to discuss firm specific communications with third parties. But if a product is unsafe or violates the law, they’re supposed to take action. And the problem is, these products are being sold at low prices on Amazon.

If you buy a product as a consumer, and you see oh, there’s all this information phosphatidylserine is going to help my brain Curcumin is going to help my joint health and muscle health you’re expecting a certain results from taking a supplement and you buy a substandard supplement that doesn’t contain what it’s supposed to. You’re not only getting cheated, but you’re actually cheating the industry. Because if someone buys a supplement and says Well, I tried that. I tried Co Q 10 It doesn’t work. I tried curcumin, it doesn’t work, they’re not going to think, Oh, I tried el cheapo and it didn’t work. They’re going to think I tried whatever that product was claiming to be, and it didn’t work. And that’s a big problem too, because you’re turning consumers off, you have this one sale.

But if they don’t get results, because it’s a substandard product, they might not trust supplements in general, they might not trust that particular ingredient in general, and you might be cheating them have the opportunity to actually support their health with good products. And that’s one reason we didn’t test our main competitors, the large companies that are really our big competitors in general, because we know they have pretty good standards, and they’re audited by the FDA. And we think the FDA should really be auditing the smaller companies more than the big companies that are third party certified like us for good manufacturing practices. We have auditors besides the FDA, the companies that don’t are really more at risk in terms of what the public’s getting.

Steve Lankford  26:10

It’s a sad state of affairs. For somebody who doesn’t know, I first learned about what you were doing through some of your press releases that came through some of the industry magazines. And I know I have access to those industry magazines, but most consumers don’t have you been able to get your message out through other say, non-supplement industry channels, any interest anywhere else in fake, I don’t know who might be most interested in understanding what it is that you’re sharing. I know there’s consumer Labs, which tests products don’t know whether they’re interested in your results. But have you been able to spread that message very far,

Neil E Levin  26:56

really no   and it’s kind of a mixed bag if we did, because it’s just as likely the mass media would say supplements are bad, they’re mislabeled. They can’t be trusted as to say, there are some bad brands that need to be clamped down on by regulators, and by the sellers. It, there’s as much risk of it, the whole industry looking bad as somebody going after these companies. And it’s just baffling that the regulation, whether internally from sellers or externally from regulators is not there. But you got to be careful what you wish for in terms of publicity, because it could turn anything.

Steve Lankford  27:39

Yes. And oftentimes, there’s very little value to getting into a spitting match, so to speak with the other companies or other venues because typically, the average consumer doesn’t care, they’re not going to be if you’ve got an issue with another competitor, that consumer I found oftentimes they don’t care, they don’t pay attention. So it’s hard to get through even when you have that message out there. How about within the industry itself? Like I said, I got your press release through an industry magazine, have you found that there’s any interest in the better side of our industry, in mounting any kind of defense or public issuance or a group to address these issues, any hope that there might be greater outreach from our industry to make people aware,

Neil E Levin  28:34

We would prefer that some independent entity, a trade association, the FDA, somebody else would be doing this. The problem is we’re seeing our sales being cut in on mass market sellers like Amazon, by these no name brands with questionable quality and ingredients. And there doesn’t seem to be any recourse. Amazon doesn’t seem to be clamping down on them. The FDA doesn’t seem to be clamping down on them. We don’t see the industry setting up their own testing programs like this.

And there used to be a program the True Label Program from the Natural Products Association that would certify and test products. We have products that are independently tested by Informed Sport to make sure that they’re able to be used by competitive athletes and Olympic athletes, in fact, because they’re tested to be free of all the banned substances, and they have that on the label. So we have certain certifications like that and certain testing, but in terms of the industry coming together and having something that is not done by a competitor, and not really. It’s baffling that after demonstrating the need for this for literally years.

There’s still no big effort to do that. And I know that we have people from our company on all the major industry Trade and quality associations for we’re on the quality committee for the American Herbal Products Association and the quality committee for the Natural Products Association. We work with the US Pharmacopoeia American Organization of Analytical Chemists, we work with a lot of these groups, and have representation. But nobody seems to be willing to step forward and do this on their own. So you’re right, we look like competitors testing our competition. But we do add that extra flavor of having a third party tested, and making sure that our results are confirmed and validated. But it’s just a hard nut. We’re pushing on this, and we’re seeing if somebody else will step in, who has more power to change things than we do, all we can do is shine a light on it.

Steve Lankford  30:49

Do you publish your results anywhere where the average consumer could actually go see them? If I mean, are they on the NOW website, or any place archive that somebody might be able to go and see what it is that you’re testing and what your results were?

Neil E Levin  31:09

Yes, if any consumer could go to NOW Foods.com type in Amazon in the search box. And you could see there’s an article NOW finds quality issues with CO q 10, and SAMe online brands, there’s a number of these articles there that you can get and see the information.

Steve Lankford  31:26

I’m really grateful for NOW doing that, because I realize the challenge and you’ve articulated it, I mean, you’re one company in this grand, a huge now marketplace. And there are many good companies who have these kinds of standards that produce good quality products that consumers can trust. But it doesn’t seem like we mount up this sort of defenses against this onslaught. And if you can’t get somebody like Amazon, or Walmart, or whoever it is of selling these products online, if they don’t care, one, it tells you something about what they think about their customers and their consumers that they really don’t care. They’re just a marketplace. And so this is why I’m wanting to champion of the small independent health food stores. Because this is where oftentimes, these stores are run by people with a passion for quality and the benefits of nutrition. And they are the gatekeepers of the products that come into their store, you can’t go to a pharmacy, None that I’ve ever been in where you can ask questions about how nutrients affect your health.

And what’s the difference between the good quality products and the cheaper quality products, some of which might be found on a pharmacy shelf, certainly grocery stores, gas stations, and everybody else that’s selling supplements, does not have the same vested interest. They’re there because of the profits and the products, but not the philosophy that brought about these products. And this is one of the things we talked about in our last interview was the passion of the founder, Elwood Richard of NOW Foods who started this company with a passion and the family owned nature of it, maintaining that kind of passion. So with these challenges in mind, how does NOW then approach it going forward? Is this something that you’re likely to continue to do on your own bear the expense of just testing these products? It seems like exercise in frustration to some extent, we think it’s bad out there. We go out there. And we show it’s bad out there. But who cares? So how do you look at the future for both what NOW might be doing and challenges in this marketplace for consumers going forward?

Neil E Levin  34:00

And I think we’ll continue doing this because finding newer problems each time we do it, I mean, for example, synthetic curcumin added to the curcumin products, the Turmeric extract products, for example, or listing something as Turmeric curcumin and a certain amount on the label, but it’s almost all turmeric root, and maybe 10% is curcumin that 95% Like a consumer would expect heavy metals, some of them were over five times as high as our products. Obviously, they’re not testing for heavy metals, some of them have 20 times higher lead than our products. For example, low quality curcumin, which is a Turmeric extract is known to be spiked with synthetics, and we have a way to identify that.

Again, we found that four of the brands were spiked with fossil fuel derived organic carbon based materials, we found two samples out of 23 that were in animal gelatin capsules that were claiming to have vegetarian capsules. And again, these are products. They’re supposed to be curcumin 95%. And they’re not. So think some of the fudging of exactly what’s on the label is something that we’re seeing that is evolving. As we try to catch them, you don’t have enough of the material, okay, we’ll put a more dilute material in and imply that it’s the same stuff. And consumers who aren’t savvy might be confused by that. We are not happy that certain competitors, for these no name competitors are willing to apparently not test or cheat or mislabeled their products, they have some things, it’s very disheartening to see that, and I don’t say that everybody, if the FDA doesn’t know what they’re doing or is bad, I think there’s policy and budget decisions being made, that there’s a certain triage, that dietary supplements are not as risky, because most of the things we’re talking about, maybe not the heavy metal issue, but most of the other issues are more consumer fraud issues rather than safety issues. And the FDA is mostly focused on safety. And dietary supplements as a category is perhaps the safest thing you could put in your mouth. In general, when you’re looking at the whole industry a safer than eating a meal in terms of food poisoning, or allergies, or things like that.

So when you’re looking at perhaps the safest food category, how much regulation does it really need? How much enforcement does it really need, I mean, certainly they could do more. But there are decisions being made high up. And there’s been a lot of lack of leadership from the top that has affected some of the good people who are working at the FDA, who might want to do things, but they simply don’t have the budget that staff the authority to actually regulate these things the way that the law says they should,

Steve Lankford  37:05

well, it comes down to buyer beware, know what you’re buying. Let’s talk about in the few minutes that we’ve got left. What’s your advice for a consumer who wants to vet the company or the product that they want to buy? Or they’re interested in? Do you have any advice on how a consumer might do a little bit of homework before they invest their dollars in determining what’s this company all about? Any advice for us?

Neil E Levin  37:36

Well, certainly looking at the mainstream companies in the industry, the ones that have third party certification for good manufacturing practices, the ones that have a lot of information about quality and things on their web pages, the ones that have some kind of third party testing going on. Most of the big companies don’t routinely do third party testing, because they don’t need to. They’ve got certifications like we do for our labs, they also a lot of people don’t realize third party testing is expensive and time consuming. And that some of the results are not as good as in house laboratory results for complex things, especially botanicals like herbs, where it requires testing things where the matrix of the herb itself might interfere with the testing with routine testing.

So you could test vitamin C in a capsule fine, it’s easy to test any lab to do it. But you’re trying to test vitamin C in a mixture with a bunch of herbs or a multivitamin, it’s a lot harder, you have to separate that out. And contract labs third party labs typically are not willing to do the work, because they can’t charge enough to cover their costs for that, to actually validate their methods for that raw material with these botanicals, maybe the pigments are interfering with detection, maybe the fats are interfering with detection. Maybe some of the proteins or other compounds are interfering with certain detection. And instead of finding workarounds and being able to do it anyway, they just come up with the best answer they can with a standard test.

That is one of the pitfalls of using an outside lab. Because how much are you willing to pay for them to do a research project on each product that you’re giving them to test whether they’re going to be able to come up with the same results as an in house lab with a dedicated staff and willing to test and retest and look through this matrix interference from the materials that are also in the product that they’re testing. And it doesn’t happen very often. For contract labs. It happens all the time with in house labs. So there’s a mythology that third party testing is the only thing that’s good is the only thing that’s reliable. And in fact, in real life, it’s often less reliable than in house testing. If you have a good company with good in house labs,

Steve Lankford  40:05

is it reasonable to think that a good company using NOW as an example, but there are many, a good company that has a good history and we believe was a reliable company, that they’re likely to have a phone number that you can actually call? And possibly ask a question, are they likely to have a physical address that you could go knock on the front door, you might not get very far inside that door, but they have a presence. I mean, you could look up the address for NOW Foods and go there and knock on the door, you could call NOW Foods and I know you have a customer line that they can call or those simple things may be signs of companies that have a presence and that many of these cheaper, no name products, as you call them, they don’t have a place where you can call or visit and see how they make their stuff. They’re not interested in transparency or sharing those things with you. Is that any kind of a clue, though, I guess the basis of my question, as to whether a company if they have a presence, that you can identify might be a sign that they are at least a more stable, reliable company, is there anything to that?

Neil E Levin  41:25

Well, sure. Because these companies, if they get caught, they could always just change their name and come out with a different brand name a few months later. And if the FDA has a regulation, you have to submit a label, you don’t necessarily have a confirmation that what’s in the label. So just because they want us to file labels with them, doesn’t mean as we saw with this testing, that what’s actually in the bottle matches the label. That’s one of the guarantees that NOW makes, and that other big companies like us make is that you’re going to get what’s on the label and nothing else within reason.

So I think you’re right, people can call 888. NOW Foods and reach us, they can fill out a form on our webpage NOW Foods.com. And reach us, we’ve got lots of articles about quality. And you can take a virtual tour of our labs, and you can call it I’ve got a staff of now seven people working for me, in the product information team, a pharmacist, a couple of naturopathic physicians, state licensed dietitian, nutritionist, and other dietitian certified nutritionist. We’ve got credentialed people working for us. And we’ve got backup with a toxicologist and an MD, and PhDs working in the company. So I’ve got lots of backup if there’s any issues or questions.

But that is, as you say, a sign of respect for the consumer. We have not only products, but services that empower people to lead healthier lives. And one of those services is having this team. It’s not inexpensive to have a team of credential people on staff, hoping to take your calls, we’re taking two to 300 calls and emails a day that we’re answering. And I don’t think any other company has the level of staffing and response that we have. We’re answering 97% of all calls live, and maybe a handful of voicemails coming through occasionally. But we’re answering things almost immediately that are coming through and people have a lot of questions they want to know is anything from China in your ingredients, it’s just kind of a broad question, and ignores the fact that we’re testing the ingredients and auditing the vendors. They want to know about the allergens. Some of them want to know temperatures, things are processed at whether alcohol was used in the processing. Yeah, you get all these very technical questions from people.

And we have to be able to have experts who are working for us for a long time. My staff, one of them has worked there almost 35 years and other one 30 years. I just had my 25th anniversary with the company. Another staff had 25 years last year as well. Another one had 20 year anniversary last year. So we have people who know the products and know how to look things up and who to ask, if we don’t know. So there is that dedication to funding and staffing a department like that, that most companies don’t have I have had people call me and say I was referred to your company to answer the question because they don’t know. And they’re referring to their competitor, because they think we might know. I mean, that’s crazy.

Steve Lankford  44:49

It’s high praise, though, that you are in fact recognized in the industry for what you do. Speaking of recognition, do you have a place where consumers can go and say See your awards or your certifications or things like that, that might point out some of these things we’ve talked about that NOW does,

Neil E Levin  45:08

yes, we do if you go to NOW Foods.com, and go to the bottom of the page, and there’s stuff about NOW. And you can see the things we’re doing our commitments. So there’s something about award winning. So if you type in award or award winning, you could look up our most recent awards, we’ve got, for example, a Delicious Living 2023, beauty and body award retailer choice, gold. So for the current year were gold, for our personal care products we’re silver for our supplements that kind of thing.

Steve Lankford  45:44

well, yes, and this is what I’m trying to get across to my listeners is that good companies go way beyond what is required, because they have a passion for their customers, and the quality. It’s a win win win win win situation where you have raw material manufacturers that make good high quality, branded, clinically studied ingredients, who need manufacturers like NOW who also want these tested, and proven quality ingredients, because they want their products to be good for the customer. So for the manufacturers, for NOW, for the retailers, for the consumers, everybody wins when we shop with good companies, and every part of that distribution chain is important and plays its own role. And the consumers role is to pay attention to the marketplace and make sure they understand the products and the brands that they’re trusting. Well, Neil, we’re just at the time for our interview to end I always want to give my guests the last word. Is there anything we didn’t cover today that you think our listeners should hear?

Neil E Levin  46:57

I just wanted to say that there are a lot of good companies in the industry and most of the industry is well meaning and trying to do the right thing. And the fact that there’s a relative handful, who are exploiting the opportunity to use these mass selling platforms to sell substandard products, does not mean the whole industry is like that, in general, the natural products industry and the supplement industry is by and large doing the right thing doing a good job. And we don’t like these bad actors, spoiling things for us and for the consumers and giving products a bad reputation.

Steve Lankford  47:38

It is a real problem. And I’ve addressed it many times. I don’t think we’ve ever had an opportunity to look at it as deeply as we’ve done today. So Neil E. Levin, from NOW, I’d like to thank you so much for being my guest today. It was very interesting.

Neil E Levin  47:56

And always enjoy our conversations. Thank you.

Steve Lankford  47:58

I do too, Neil. Thank you so much. Till next time, I wish you the best. Bye bye.

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Close  48:56

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