Attorney General concerned the statement on product labels could mislead consumers about what was really verified, commends Walmart for cooperating to end practice
DES MOINES – Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has agreed to eliminate a so-called “independent verification” statement on its Walmart store-brand Spring Valley dietary supplement labels nationwide, to address concerns that the statement could mislead consumers as to what in a supplement was independently verified.
Through an agreement with Attorney General Tom Miller, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail chain will permanently remove the statement, “Verified by an independent, certified laboratory.”
The verification statement appeared on about 60 Spring Valley supplements, including some offerings of echinacea, garlic, ginseng, gingko biloba, St. John’s wort, and saw palmetto.
Issue Discovered During Wide-Ranging Dietary Supplement Industry Review
The Consumer Protection Division learned of the verification statement during a wide-ranging review of dietary supplement industry marketing practices.
An inquiry determined that an independent lab verified only that certain Walmart products contained primary ingredients stated on labels – for example, that Spring Valley garlic capsules did, in fact, contain garlic.
Miller’s office had become concerned that the “verification” statement could give consumers a mistaken impression as to what product features an independent lab actually verified.
“Dietary supplement marketing gives rise to special concerns, since ads and labels emphasize health benefits, but a lack of regulatory safeguards means that manufacturers and sellers don’t have to show that their products work—or work safely—before they go on store shelves,” Miller said. “We think it’s important that dietary supplement claims are clear to consumers and that those who make and sell the products can fully back-up any claims that appear on packaging and in advertising.”
Walmart Cooperative, Agreed to Changes
According to Miller, the agreement was the culmination of cooperative discussions in which Walmart committed to change the labels in question, despite the company’s belief that consumers had not been harmed.
“We’re pleased that Walmart is willing to work with us in resolving this issue here in Iowa and across the country,” Miller said. “Although we have not received any consumer complaints about the practice, we want to be proactive. To its credit, Walmart began removing the verification statement from new labels in September of 2014, and recently completed the process.”
Nationwide, consumers with a receipt or product container with the verification statement can obtain a full refund, consistent with Walmart’s established return policy.
In Iowa, consumers who do not have a receipt or container, but can establish they purchased supplements with the verification statement, can obtain a refund through the Consumer Protection Division. Walmart has agreed to provide $100,000 to the Attorney General's office for such refunds to Iowa consumers.
Iowans seeking a refund for Spring Valley supplements with the verification statement should first look to Walmart and, only if the refund request to Walmart is unsuccessful, contact the Consumer Protection Division.
For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov or email directly to email@example.com. Consumers can also call the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926, or outside the Des Moines area, toll free, at 888-777-4590.