ABC counters inaccurate media reports: Herbal supplements do not contain animal tissue
Austin, TX -- A July 30 Reuters News Service story wrongly implies that herbal supplements contain animal tissue. A letter to the editor, published in the July 27th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, and the resulting media coverage incorrectly refer to dietary supplements that contain animal tissue as "herbal," according to the independent herb science group American Botanical Council (ABC).
The letter, written by Dr. Scott A. Norton, a dermatologist in Maryland, addresses animal tissues in "glandular" products sold in the U.S. as dietary supplements. Reuters’ widely distributed story perpetuates Norton’s error of labeling all dietary supplements as herbal products and the myth that dietary supplements are unregulated.
"The way this subject is being reported to the American public is absolutely false and misleading," said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, the leading nonprofit educational organization devoted to research and education about herbal medicines. He continued, "By definition, herbs are from plants! Saying that animal products are herbal is contrary to very basic rules of science classification, where everything falls into the three general categories of animal, vegetable, or mineral. Herbs are in the vegetable kingdom, in botany, which is why they are often referred to as ‘botanical medicines’."
Federal law defines dietary supplements as vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other substances used to supplement the diet, such as a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract of combination of these ingredients. These products are regulated by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission. Last year, FDA Commissioner Jane Henney, M.D., testified before the Committee on Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives that current law “provides FDA with the necessary legal authority to protect the public health.”
Reaction from academic herbal experts was swift. "This is a good example of the type of misinformation that medical journals publish on herbs," said Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D., former dean of the school of pharmacy at Purdue University and author of scientific textbooks and articles on herbal medicines. "The journal peer review process clearly did not work in this case," he said, referring to the editorial process in medical and scientific journals whereby articles and letters to the editor are fact-checked by experts to ensure the accuracy of the contents prior to publication. "It would appear that the author has an incomplete understanding of botanical nomenclature," Tyler added.
"This type of media error is increasing at an alarming rate," Blumenthal remarked. "When dealing with consumer health, one would hope that writers and editors have at least a working knowledge of the subject, and yet lately we are seeing news stories about herbs that are misleading. In this case we must make it clear: Laws and regulations that protect public health are on the books. And, herbal products do not contain animal parts."
Founded in 1988 in Austin, Texas, the American Botanical Council is the leading independent non-profit research and education organization that educates the public on the responsible and scientific use of medicinal plants. Its quarterly journal, HerbalGram, has been published since 1983 as a reliable and authoritative source of herb and medicinal plant research, regulatory and market issues, native plant conservation and other general interest aspects of herb use. Information for consumers and healthcare professionals about herbal medicine may be found on the organization’s website www.herbalgram.org.