The company has been testing its products for contaminants as well as accuracy of their ingredient labels.
You may noticed a few vitamin brands missing from the shelves at your local CVS store.
There’s a reason.
CVS Pharmacy has launched an initiative requiring independent third-party testing of all dietary supplements sold in their stores as well as online.
The targets of their testing include two broad categories.
First, company officials say they want to make sure that what’s listed on the labels of these products is actually in the products.
They’re also testing to ensure there are no contaminants in these supplements.
CVS actually began requiring testing on these products in 2017 with a goal to finish testing by the end of 2019, but they completed the first phase of the project early.
The result? About 7 percent of these products failed, requiring either updates to product labels or these products being yanked from CVS shelves entirely.
“Eighty percent of failures were due to label claims — examples include not having enough of any stated ingredient in the supplement panel (levels of vitamin B, just for example),” George Coleman, CVS senior vice president, told Healthline.
“We also saw label failures because allergens weren’t listed but had trace amounts, such as tree nuts. Another label failure was that a product was listed as ‘gluten-free’ but was not in fact,” he said.
“As a result of the ‘Tested to be Trusted’ program, there have been 22 products removed from shelves,” he added.
Dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbal supplements, represent a $40 billion industry in the United States.
Yet, many Americans are unaware that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these supplements less like a drug and more like a specialty food.
This means a difference in burden of proof: Drugs are generally considered unsafe until they can be proven safe, while food products are considered safe until proven otherwise.
That’s a subtle, but significant difference when it comes to a supplement that’s marketed — and used — much like a medicine.
The FDA isn’t unaware of the problem though.
The agency signaled its intent in February in a letter from FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb to “strengthen the framework that governs dietary supplements.”
That includes a commitment to publicize concerns about various supplements more quickly as well as the creation of a “Dietary Supplement Working Group” to reform process and procedures governing supplements at the agency.
The new policy promoted a dozen warning letters and five advisory letters to various companies for illegally marketing supplements as treatments for Alzheimer’s and other serious health conditions.
In the meantime, consumers are left to either empower themselves or rely on companies making independent moves like CVS did.
It’s not that Americans don’t care about what they put in their bodies. Rather that the constellation of labeling and testing can be hard to understand.
In fact, while 61 percent of people in the United States say they’re concerned about the products they use and ingest, more than one in three say they never or almost-never research product claims, according to a recent survey from NSF International, an independent, global public health and safety organization and one of the companies CVS contracted with to do its internal testing.
The same survey also found that 46 percent of Americans go on to purchase products despite being unsure of the validity of the product claims.
How these impurities end up in supplements can be both intentional and unintentional, David Trosin, the global business development director in health sciences at NSF International, told Healthline.
“In the manufacturing process, human error or failure to live up to regulator-required Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) can lead to contamination or a failure to meet product claims,” he said.
“There is also adulteration of dietary supplement products,” he added. “This can be both unintentional, for example, when an additional botanical ingredient is mistakenly included in the harvest of a desired ingredient, or deliberate, when a manufacturer adds a fraudulent or illegal ingredient for economic gain.”
On the “Test to be Trusted” website, CVS issued a disclaimer that this testing was only on a single lot of these various supplements and “third-party testing for subsequent lots is not required.”
That makes business sense since many companies find that level of verification to be cost prohibitive, according to NSF International.
But according to CVS’s Coleman, the company does intend to do follow-up testing “to ensure the products we sell continue to meet or exceed our standards.”
According to a 2018 CVS Health survey, more than half of vitamin shoppers reported that certification from a third-party provider is a strong indicator of quality in the vitamin category, Coleman said.
Additionally, the vitamin shoppers said third-party verification provided “peace of mind.”
“By requiring third-party testing of the vitamins and supplements they sell, CVS Pharmacy is demonstrating a real commitment to trust, transparency, and health,” he said. “Through NSF certification, consumers can have added confidence that their supplements contain what they claim.”