Tests on supplements find bad herb

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Tests on supplements find bad herb

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Bottles of Baekseju, a Korean wine manufactured by Kooksoondang, being piled into a shopping cart at a retail store in Seoul on Tuesday after the Food and Drug Safety Ministry announced that a test showed that the ingredient used in the product was not Cynanchum wilfordii, known for effective treatment of geriatric diseases, but Cynanchum auriculatum Royal, known to cause weight loss, hepatotoxicity and even nervous breakdowns.[NEWSIS]

The toxic herb scandal affecting Natural Endotech and other makers of health supplements is getting wider in scope.

According to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety Tuesday, many products that claim to contain Cynanchum wilfordii, an herb used for menopause complaints, in fact contained Cynanchum auriculatum Royal, which is banned by the government from use in consumable products.

Repercussions from the results of the investigation are expected to affect not only the health food and supplement industry but also beverage makers and the country’s leading cooperative body, which also claimed to have used the medicinal herb.

When the scandal first broke out over Natural Endotech products, the entire tech-heavy Kosdaq market plummeted.

According to the results of a ministry investigation released Tuesday, of 207 samples of health supplements and general food products from 128 companies that claimed to contain Cynanchum wilfordii, 40 products from 28 companies were found to contain Cynanchum auriculatum Royal instead. Of the 40, 17 had no trace of Cynanchum wilfordii while 23 had a mixture of Cynanchum wilfordii and the replacement herb.

Samples of a ginseng product from the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation were also found to contain traces of the toxic herb, according to the ministry.

Results on the remaining 157 products were inconclusive because the ingredients’ DNA was damaged beyond recognition in manufacturing.

The ministry has decided to recall all 40 products that were found to contain Cynanchum auriculatum Royal, while the same products with different manufacturing dates will be put on a voluntary recall. Ten products that were found to have no Cynanchum auriculatum Royal will be allowed to continue sales, but batches with different manufacturing dates from the sample will be halted as a precautionary measure. Once they are found to contain no Cynanchum auriculatum Royal, the sales ban will be lifted.

Of the 157 products with inconclusive results, the ministry has asked that 58 health supplements products be voluntarily recalled by their manufacturers, while the sale of 99 general food products will be halted until they are proven to be Cynanchum auriculatum Royal-free.

The Food and Drug Ministry also said 31 products in the agricultural category were investigated, 19 of which were found to contain traces of Cynanchum auriculatum Royal. They will be collected and disposed of.

Samples of a fermented rice drink by Kooksoondang were also found contain traces of the replacement herb, and the company has voluntarily recalled products that were affected.

The Food and Drug Ministry said it plans to test whether Cynanchum auriculatum Royal was toxic, though it has maintained it “will not be problematic to the human body.” The test will be conducted in order to “ease public anxiety,” according to ministry official Chang Ki-yoon.

The toxicity test will be done at a Good Laboratory Practice-approved lab in accordance with global standards. The whole investigation is expected to take around two years.

Under current law Cynanchum auriculatum Royal is banned from use in products for human consumption.

Cynanchum wilfordii this year has been seeing exceptional growth in demand as it is known to effectively treat various geriatric complaints, particularly by women undergoing menopause.

However, Cynanchum auriculatum Royal is known to result in extreme weight loss, hepatotoxicity and even nervous breakdowns.

Most of the home shopping companies that have sold the bulk of Cynanchum wilfordii products are expected to give refunds for products that have not yet been consumed.

The controversy around Cynanchum wilfordii came to light on April 22 when the Korea Consumer Agency found that the majority of herbal pharmaceutical products by Natural Endotech turned out to contain Cynanchum auriculatum Royal.

Shares of Natural Endotech, the country’s leading manufacturer of Cynanchum wilfordii, jumped by the daily limit of 15 percent for a second consecutive session on Tuesday.

BY PARK JUNG-YOUN [park.jungyoun@joongang.co.kr]

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