Lead-in-vitamins report creates controversy

A company that tests vitamins and supplements is standing by its claim that a popular brand of children’s vitamins contains unhealthy levels of lead - despite protests from the manufacturer of the vitamins.

“There’s no question about the results,” Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, said in an interview with Reuters Health. Cooperman said he stands by the recent ConsumerLab.com review that found that L’il Critters Gummy Vites contained potentially harmful levels of lead.

But the results of the testing are “highly suspect,” according to Steven Fink of Lexicon Communications, which represents Northwest Natural Products, Inc., (NNP) the company that makes the vitamins.

“The underlying message is that Gummy Vites are safe,” Fink told Reuters Health in an interview. “To say that they are way above any kind of standard is misleading.”

ConsumerLab.com is a privately held company based in White Plains, New York. According to the company, it is neither owned by nor has a financial interest in any companies that make, distribute or sell consumer products.

One project of the New York company is to review the contents of vitamins and supplements. The results being disputed come from a review of more than 40 vitamin products, Cooperman said.

To conduct this type of review, ConsumerLab.com purchases products from stores and then sends them to an independent lab for testing, according to Cooperman. If the first round of testing produces any troubling results, such as elevated lead levels, then the product is tested at a second independent lab, he said.

That is what happened with L’il Critters Gummy Vites, according to Cooperman. The first round of testing detected 2.5 micrograms of lead per two-gummy-bear serving, and a second lab confirmed the results, Cooperman said.

The FDA advises that children younger than 6 consume no more than 6 micrograms of lead per day.

But Fink, the representative for Northwest Natural Products, Inc., says that when the vitamin maker had an independent lab conduct similar testing, the vitamins contained negligible levels of lead. In fact, Fink said that L’il Critter Gummy Vites had less lead than several other children’s vitamins, although he said he was not able to release the comparative results at this time.

According to Cooperman, ConsumerLab.com’s testing involved vitamins that had an expiration date of September 2005. Cooperman said that the tests commissioned by the vitamin maker were conducted on newer vitamins, which had an expiration date of 2006.

“They tested a newer batch and said that we lied. It’s ridiculous,” Cooperman said.

But Fink said that ConsumerLab.com would not tell Northwest Natural Products, Inc., which batch had been tested, a charge denied by Cooperman, who said that ConsumerLab.com always retains samples of the products that it tests.

Fink also complained, “ConsumerLab.com never contacted Northwest Natural Products, Inc., the manufacturer of Gummy Vites to alert them to their test results.”

According to Fink, the company first learned of the story when consumers who read a story about the testing in O Magazine called the company’s hotline. Fink alleged that ConsumerLab.com held on to the results of the testing until the story broke first in O Magazine and then on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“That was not the case,” according to Cooperman.

Both sides in the dispute are awaiting the results of testing of a recent batch of vitamins. NNP has paid ConsumerLab.com to measure lead levels in a newer batch of its product. The results of the testing should be available this week, according to Cooperman.

The results are overdue, according to Fink, who said the company paid ConsumerLab.com an additional fee to expedite the results.

The latest round of testing may do little to settle the dispute, however, as Cooperman said he is considering legal action because of the “really libelous things” that have been said about ConsumerLab.com.

“It seems to me that they made a business decision that it would be easier to try to create doubt about our results than to correct the problem,” Cooperman said.

For his part, Fink questioned the independence of ConsumerLab.com. He noted that when a company pays ConsumerLab.com to test its product, the contract stipulates that the company has the power to block the publication of any negative results.

According to Cooperman, this only applies when a company contracts directly with ConsumerLab.com to test a product to see if it meets the criteria for ConsumerLab.com seal of approval. This differs from the wide-ranging reviews that ConsumerLab.com also conducts. When reviewing a whole category of products, such as the vitamin review that triggered the dispute, Cooperman pointed out that ConsumerLab.com purchases all products and owns the results of the testing.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.