By Joanie Blaxter, founder of Follow Your Gut
Supplement Testing Shenanigans
About eleven years ago I was working in sales and customer service for a small supplements company and I loved my job! Primarily because I had such respect for the owners, a naturopathic physician, one of the best nutrition researchers I had ever met, and his co-owner, a medical nutritionist.
Both clinicians saw patients regularly in addition to managing their supplements company. Both had the highest integrity regarding their choices for ingredients for their products of anyone I had met in my two decades of working in the natural foods and products industry. I was very proud to call myself one of their eight employees.
And then one day out of the blue we got a really bizarre phone call.
I still remember how Marianna, our senior sales person who took the incoming call, looked mystified as she approached the doctor who owned the company. She explained that she had just spoken to someone from a “lab” who had said that their company would be testing our products.
Our company had all our products third-party tested on a regular basis to verify their efficacy, but we had to pay, considerable amounts in fact, to get that testing done. We'd never had anyone volunteer to test our ingredients for us before!
“What?” asked Dr. L incredulously. By now all of us in the office had our ears pricked up. This was weird, to say the least.
Once Dr. L got off the phone call with the representative from ConsumerLab.com, we all clustered around, eager to hear his explanation.
Brows slightly furrowed, he looked at us for several moments, pursed his lips, and then said…
“This is not right.”
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 know that one company was charged over $4,000 to test a single product.
Companies that pay the fee are guaranteed that if one of their products passes the testing…, it gets listed on the site and may carry the CL Seal of Approval—and if it fails the testing, the product will never be identified publicly because the results are “proprietary to the manufacturer”!
(Emphasis mine, source: Supplement Safety: What You Need to Know about ConsumerLab.com – and More.)
Dr. L was clear – unless he paid their fee (“exorbitant” I believe was the word the good doctor used), any “failed” test results would be published publicly on the ConsumerLab.com website and sent to CL's members.
Pay the fee, and any “failed” results would be kept “private.”
In other words, despite the name ConsumerLab.com, this company had NOTHING whatsoever to do with protecting the consumer!
If Consumer Lab was a true watchdog group, then they would NEVER agree to hide failed test results – and certainly NOT for a fee.
The purpose appeared to be to simply intimidate fees out of companies afraid of bad publicity.
We all looked at Dr. L, mouths agape.
“Are you going to do it?” we wanted to know…
“Of course not!” he declared. First of all, he explained, how would we know that their results were valid?
They could leave the product in the sun for a week before testing, or open the bottle, or cause any number of problems that would make for a “failed” result. And then collect their coerced fee for agreeing not to publish their “results!”
Besides, the doctor objected just on principle. He saw the company as nothing more than a scandalous, money-making sham and was confident it would soon be publicly revealed to be the backdoor shakedown that it really was. He didn't want any part of the scheme!
So, fast forward eleven years, and guess what company has already been cited in 2015 by such well-respected media sources as The New York Times, Dr. Oz, NPR, and The Washington Post?
ConsumerLab.com continues to get all kinds of free publicity as a result of reporters and fact checkers clearly not doing their job vetting this for-profit corporation.
In addition to not being a legitimate consumer watchdog organization, ConsumerLab.com is not even a lab.
It is actually a marketing company which contracts with real laboratories to do their testing.
Cooperman (ConsumerLab.com's President & Founder) claims that one quarter of the products failed his company's testing, which is probably about the number of companies that categorically refused to pay for the “independent” testing…
It reflects despicable business policies that could be called blackmail…
There are times when being endorsed by a certain group is actually an indication of dishonor. This appears to be the case for Consumer Lab certified companies.
We recommend avoiding all vitamins that have… the C.L. seal…
(Emphasis mine, source: Evaluating the Evaluators from Consumer Lab.)
To add insult to injury, CL charges $30/month to enable consumer members to view their listing of “approved” products.
Talk about double dipping!
Supplement manufacturers are forced to pay to keep “failed” results off CL's website and consumers are forced to pay to see the ones that “passed”.
Marc Ullman, an attorney with expertise in regulatory matters, wrote an open letter to ConsumerLab.com's President, pointing out the hypocrisy of how the company accepts (large) payments from manufacturers to hide test results from the consumer:
Your failure to let the consumers that you claim to be so interested in protecting know that the companies you are endorsing pay at least part of your salary seems to be, at best, a grave oversight.
(Emphasis mine, source: An open letter to Tod Cooperman, ConsumerLab.com.)
So whatever happened to my wonderful little company with their premier quality nutritional formulas?
I'm not sure! Not long after being contacted by ConsumerLab.com, my company was sold to a much larger corporation and I subsequently moved to the west coast. I'm guessing the bigger company simply buckled under because they had deep pockets and didn't want the hassle of the “bad” publicity.
But now you know, so what can you do?
- Pass this article on, so other caring consumers like yourself won't be duped. (You can easily use the share buttons.)
- Keep reading Kelly's posts and checking the resources she lists on her website.
- Be vigilant and aware, here are more stories of corruption:
- How to recognize a troll vs. a real person online.
- Now Google is Going Bad too?
- 4 Daily Supplements We All Should Take
- A Mom's View of a Real Food Crackdown
- Find more stories of corruption here.
This was a post by my sweet friend, Joanie Blaxter, now a regular writer around here!
Joanie has been in sales and education in the natural foods and products industry since the early 70’s, with her most recent six years spent as a vitamin specialist in a health foods store.
For health consultations Joanie can be contacted here and her past articles are located here.
Disclaimer: Neither Joanie nor I are health professionals! Use what you read here for your own research and then consult with a natural-minded doctor or health professional you trust to find what is best and right for YOU. Read my entire disclaimer here, and also note that there may be affiliate links in this post.
Lisa Campbell says
Who respects Dr. Oz? Legit docs are pushing to have him discredited, and rightly so. I personally , has caught him putting out false info on the ‘ miracle face and eye cream’ he is promoting. He claims that no other company sells creams with an effective amount of vitamin C and hyuralonic acid. This is just false. For one, Paula’s Choice offers serums with effective amounts of both these ingredients, at a significantly lower price. They also have a fantastic return policy. It is a myth that you need a separate eye and face cream. Anything that works on your face can be applied around your eyes. Eye teams are also sold in smaller jars at a high cost. I have seen great results using these two ingredients. Dr. Ox is a self-serving flake and anyone who blindly takes his advice needs to do some research.
Joanie Blaxter says
Clearly, however, the Alliance for Natural Health does not think the business model for ConsumerLab.com is at all “cleaned up.”
As they say in the link above “In 2014 we sent a letter to CL asking eight very pointed questions about their business practices. We still haven’t received a response to our questions. Surely two years is long enough for the company to respond?”
Kelly, it would be helpful to get more up-to-date info on this. Check out the wikipedia page for ConsumerLab. They mention that this issue was brought up in a law suit filed 10 years ago by a trade association representing the supplement manufacturers with the FTC and that 2 months later, the FTC decided not to take any action. The letter from the FTC is linked on the page. Furthermore, ConsumerLab states that its main revenue comes from sales of online subscriptions and that other revenue-generating products include books and survey reports and the sale of licenses to publish its proprietary information. Maybe their business model has changed…or maybe not. Have you called them and asked? I don’t mean to sound like I’m defending them because I absolutely am not (in fact I’m strongly against taking supplements of any kind). I just want to make sure that those of us bloggers in the natural living/WAPF community don’t lose credibility by publishing out-of-date information or information that is not validated through at least a little bit of investigation.
Thanks for the good work that you do! I always enjoy reading your posts. 🙂
Joanie Blaxter says
Nevra, if you think this issue is dated or resolved, you may want to check out the following article posted June 23, 2015 by the Alliance for Natural Health entitled “Consumer.Lab.com Comes Out Firing at ANH-USA”: :https://www.anh-usa.org/consumerlab-com-comes-out-firing-at-anh-usa/.
The first two sentences of that article are “Over the last few years, we’ve raised numerous concerns about the business practices of ConsumerLab.com (CL), an organization that purports to help consumers identify the highest quality dietary supplements. CL responded to our articles with a letter demanding we retract those articles—which we refused to do—and attacked ANH-USA on its website in an effort to “correct” what CL feels is “misinformation” about its business.”
Thanks for sharing. It definitely sounds shady what they’re doing and it is a mystery to me with the FTC wouldn’t want to investigate. But I still wonder if they still have the same business model today that they had 10 years ago. They might have cleaned up a bit after all the negative attention.
Joanie Blaxter says
I doubt it. The Alliance for Natural Health still has issues with the ConsumerLab.com’s business model and ConsumerLab.com has continued to duck their requests for information.
Actions speak louder than words.
Thanks for the info.
The two supplements I use (both from Garden of Life) don’t say anything like that. Thank goodness!