Thursday, February 5, 2015

Arkansas lawyers file class action against Walmart, others, over herbal products: UPDATE

Posted By on Thu, Feb 5, 2015 at 3:19 PM

click to enlarge New York attorney general says Walmart's Gingko biloba brand contained powdered radish, houseplants and wheat.
  • New York attorney general says Walmart's Gingko biloba brand contained powdered radish, houseplants and wheat.
Lawyers in Little Rock and Fayetteville have filed federal suit in the Western District against Walmart, Target and Walgreens stores for selling herbal products that an investigation in New York discovered contained little or none of the ingredients advertised on the bottle. 

Herbal products named in the Arkansas suits are Spring Valley Echinacea, Spring Valley St. John's Wort, Spring Valley Gingko Biloba and Spring Valley Gingseng (Walmart brands); Up & Up Gingko Biloba, Up & Up St. John's Wort and Up & Up Valerian Root (Target); and Finest Nutrition Gingko Biloba, Finest Nutrition St. John's Wort, Finest Nutrition Gingeng and Finest Nutrition Echinacea (Walgreen Co.) The suits allege the corporations have violated  deceptive trade practices, deceptive advertising, breach of warranty and unjust enrichment. The lawyers are seeking class action status for the suits.

A report in the New York Times about the attorney general's investigation said laboratory testing "found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies."

Among the attorney general’s findings was a popular store brand of ginseng pills at Walgreens, promoted for “physical endurance and vitality,” that contained only powdered garlic and rice. At Walmart, the authorities found that its ginkgo biloba, a Chinese plant promoted as a memory enhancer, contained little more than powdered radish, houseplants and wheat — despite a claim on the label that the product was wheat- and gluten-free.

Three out of six herbal products at Target — ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and valerian root, a sleep aid — tested negative for the herbs on their labels. But they did contain powdered rice, beans, peas and wild carrots. And at GNC, the agency said, it found pills with unlisted ingredients used as fillers, like powdered legumes, the class of plants that includes peanuts and soybeans, a hazard for people with allergies.

The New York attorney general general's office has issued cease and desist orders to the three retailers and GNC demanding they stop selling the supplements. Tom Thrash, one of the attorneys in the Arkansas cases, said Target and Walgreens have agreed to the order; calls to the corporate media offices to confirm have not yet been returned. UPDATE: Spokesman James Graham of Walgreen Co. has responded that the five products named in the NY AG's order have been removed from store shelves, and Target spokesman Evan Lapiska issued this statement: "We are partnering with our vendor to investigate the matters raised by the report and intend to cooperate fully with the Attorney General. While that investigation proceeds, Target will comply with the New York Attorney General’s request to pull these products, and will do so in all of our stores." Walmart has stopped selling the products in New York; it has released  this statement.

The three suits filed in Arkansas yesterday are   here  and  here.   Thrash said a suit against GNC is also being prepared and that the complaint against Walmart will be served today.

Thrash and his co-counsel in the herbal products suit — Marcus Bozeman and Ken Shemin of Fayetteville — are also representing Connie Stafford, who is suing Whole Foods Market California Inc. for labeling some of its products as “organic” or “all-natural” when they contain artificial ingredients. The suit was filed in circuit court, but federal Judge Leon Holmes ruled the case should be heard in federal court.

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