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Evaluating The Evaluators from Consumer Lab

Written by Print  E-mail

We were contacted to evaluate an organization known as Consumer Lab. They have been cited numerous times in mainstream news publications as experts in appraising nutritional supplements. They have a reputation for targeting specific companies aggressively. We normally embrace any group that is seeking higher standards and accountability concerning supplements and alternative medicine, but something seemed terribly amiss about Consumer Lab.

"Our Mission: To identify the best quality health and nutritional products through independent testing."

-- www.consumerlab.com

Consumer Lab claims to be working for the public; similar to Consumer Reports. It tests the concentration and purity of supplements, and it then reports its findings to paying customers. Individuals who want to know its results must subscribe to Consumer Lab for $30 a year, when we last checked pricing. In addition to getting money from the consumers, it also gets money from the supplement companies themselves. Companies pay them thousands of dollars for favorable product analysis and reviews. Recommendations from Consumer Lab have expiry dates, so manufacturers must pay again every 12 months, if they wish to continue using the certified "CL" seal. On one hand, companies are paying Consumer Lab for favorable reviews, while individuals are paying them for what they believe is objective reporting.

"Also try the vendors below, as each sells some of the products tested... We have not, however, tested nor approved all of the items that they carry, so check our Reviews. These vendors pay a fee to be listed below but we receive no revenue from purchases made. We have reviewed the advertisements for accuracy but do not review or endorse editorial information appearing on their websites. Click here for more information about advertising on ConsumerLab.com."

-- www.consumerlab.com

The above quote appeared on their official "Where To Buy" (supplements) web page. Those statements comprised a slip that revealed their financial double-dipping.

Marc Ullman, writing for Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine, previously reported how this is an extreme conflict of interest. It is virtually impossible to be a paid client of the industry, while providing an objective analysis; like the 3rd party watchdog that they pretend to be. So we decided to dig a little deeper into Consumer Lab.

Consumer Lab's C.E.O.

The president of Consumer Lab is Tod Cooperman, M.D. While in medical school, he spent a summer working at an investment bank in New York City, where he evaluated new health care companies. His first job following graduation from medical school was with Bristol-Myers-Squibb pharmaceuticals, where he remained from 1987 to 1993.

He then founded CareData Reports, which rated insurance plans and H.M.O.'s; purportedly based on customer feedback. The company continued to expand until it covered everything from pharmacy benefits to dental care. At which time he sold CareData to J.D. Power and Associates, and remained there as an employee until 1999. We found the company's explosive growth to be puzzling; considering that it profited solely by providing consumer reports. However, we have been unable to prove that CareData Reports profited from the same payola scheme that fuels Consumer Lab.

Consumer Lab's website claims that one of his first actions, when starting consumerlab.com, was to hire one of the "world's leading experts on dietary supplements", Dr. William Obermeyer. Dr. Obermeyer had been working as an upper-level Food and Drug Administration chemist for nine years before undertaking his business partnership with Cooperman. We investigated Obermeyer based upon speculations about why someone with a cushy, well-paid governmental job at the F.D.A., with likely no accountability whatsoever, would suddenly give up that secure position in favor of a risky job venture in a new business that had never been explored.

Dr. Obermeyer's work in the F.D.A. had been limited to investigating contamination in dietary supplements, and watching for unapproved claims from competing treatment methodologies. It is documented that Obermeyer complained that the F.D.A. did not have the necessary funds to persecute people who reported competing cancer treatments, whilst investigating supplement companies at the same time. Obermeyer's comments have led us to conclude that his resignation was prompted by the F.D.A. not being aggressive enough in suppressing information about successful alternatives, instead of concerns about sincere product safety.

The Agenda of Consumer Lab

Consumer Lab claims to have tested approximately 1,600 products, including making the rather ambitious claim that it has tested 95% of all supplements sold in the United States. Cooperman claims that one quarter of the products failed his company's testing, which is probably about the number of companies that categorically refused to pay for the "independent" testing or a U.S.P. certification. It reflects despicable business policies that could be called blackmail, and the uncertified companies are therefore more ethical because of their non-compliance. As an ex-employee of Bristol-Myers-Squibb, and someone who actively seeks F.D.A. advice on nutritional supplements, we have a fairly clear idea of Cooperman's agenda.

Cooperman's partner, Dr. Obermeyer, spent nine glorious years inside the F.D.A., seeking problems with dietary supplements, before continuing the same work at Consumer Lab. The very name of this company reminds us of The Center For Consumer Freedom, a P.R. front for Monsanto and "hundreds of companies that wish to remain anonymous". While such cute names are designed to be disarming; such organizations are usually paid by the very industry that they are supposed to be policing. In the case of Consumer Lab, they likewise appear to be team players.

"In a recent test of multivitamins, ConsumerLab.com found that Equate-Mature Multivitamin 50+ sold by Wal-Mart was just as good as the name brand Centrum Silver, but at less than a nickel a day is half the price."

-- New York Times (Dec. 4th, 2009)

The deception is their covert placing of Centrum Silver as the gold standard of supplements in the minds of readers, without them noticing this slight-of-hand trick. In our educated opinion, we believe that neither product is actually fit for human consumption, nor does either provide more benefit than harm in the long term. Both supplement companies likely paid a great deal of money to both the New York Times and to Consumer Lab for such 'objective reporting'. The vitamins that are recommended by Consumer Lab are known as U.S.P. vitamins. The "P" stands for pharmacopeia -- and the "pharma" part is not coincidental.

"What does Consumerlab.com charge to participate in its 'voluntary certification program'? One of the comments posted after my first letter noted that the fee charged for testing products containing Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM was $4,650.00 for the tests completed in the early summer 2009. Is this the standard fee that Consumerlab.com charges companies that wish to ensure that your test results are proprietary to the manufacturer?"

-- Marc Ullman

Marc Ullman is chair of the Legal Advisory Council for the Natural Products Foundation. He pinned-down Mr. Cooperman in a public discourse, whereby his questions became a little too uncomfortable for Mr. Cooperman to answer. The term "proprietary" means that the test results are owned by the manufacturer buying the study, so that all negative findings may be stricken from public disclosure. Any organization that truly serves the public and operates under scientific principles does not keep secrets about its results. Consumer Lab is the anti-thesis of principled scientific research.

There are times when being endorsed by a certain group is actually an indication of dishonor. This appears to be the case for Consumer Lab certified companies. We recommend avoiding all vitamins that have either the C.L. seal or a U.S.P. certification. The C.L. seal marks an approval by an organization that is run by those who, in the very least, have vested interests outside of what they fully disclose. While we generally have no disagreements with groups seeking to benefit the public by providing honest information about supplements, there are far too many coincidences for us to ignore here. The Food and Drug Administration is the last place that one should ever search for honest and accurate advice about herbs and supplements. It is very much like seeking advice from a drug dealer about how to break free from a drug addiction. Likewise, seeking advice from Consumer Lab appears to be just as irrational, since its owners have been heavily immersed in the pharmaceutical cartel for most of their careers, and even directly employed by the F.D.A. itself. They are part of a good-ole-boy network from a chemical industry that profits from sick care, but never healing. It is an industry that openly mocks supplementation and nutritional medicine.

A System Designed to Protect Itself from Threats

If the F.D.A. needed to put more resources into a particular area, surely it would be the area that is resulting in the most deaths. We never see emergency rooms filled with those who are experiencing horrendous vitamin B-12 reactions, or vitamin C overdoses. Instead, the majority of people are there for life-threatening reactions to properly prescribed drugs; so the F.D.A. should spend more time checking the safety of drugs that are already on the market. If they were as rigorous in enforcing recalls for pharmaceuticals as they are for dietary supplements, then medicine as we know it would cease to exist. Ephedra was banned by the F.D.A., after concentrated doses of the stimulant had been taken by people who were also using hypertension medications; resulting in roughly 200 deaths. Of course, it was the herb that was blamed. In contrast, Vioxx caused 27,000 deaths before it was voluntarily recalled. The voluntary recall means that the pharmaceutical manufacturer still has full F.D.A. approval to put Vioxx back onto the market at will. Be watchful for that to eventually happen under a new and more marketable drug name.


Related Articles

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Why You Should Avoid All HONcode Certified Websites

Doctor Andrew Weil: Whose Side Is He Really On?

The Supplementation Problem and Our Supplement Recommendations


Comments (31)
  • Marc Ullman  - Understanding Consumerlab

    Consumerlab.com has done an incredible job selling itself as an unbiased, authoritative testing service that provides good information to consumers. As my two columns that Sarah notes in her story try to point out, before buying into the Consumerlab story consumers should understand three things:

    1. Consumerlab is not a lab at all. It hires contract labs to conduct its testing, and there are significant questions as to how often (if ever) those labs are audited by this organization that likes to claim consumers need to rely on its audits of industry.

    2. Companies that pay to participate in Consumerlab's "voluntary" testing programs "own" the test results. This means that under this program a company can direct Consumerlab to withhold a negative test result. Thus, consumers may never get the full story.

    3. The "quality" standards used by Consumerlab are frequently based on California's Proposition 65, a law unique to that state which establishes tolerance levels for certain heavy metals and pesticides well below legal levels set by the FDA or the 49 other states. Thus, a headline announcing that "Half the Products Tested Fail" may simply mean that these products meet quality standards by the Federal Government and 49 States but do not satisfy the draconian standards set under one California law.

    Consumers who turn to Consumerlab for information should consider these facts before making any judgments.

  • Ellen Wedding  - CL

    slight correction. the subscription is for a year or two year.
    not month. otherwise sounds very informative. hate the part that mfg. of supplements are foreced to pay to have their product "tested"
    thank you.

  • maggie  - another correction needed

    Sarah..
    just an fyi.. the name of the company is ConsumerLab.com not ConsumerLabs.com

  • Richard Williams  - Consumer Lab Subscription Choices

    And a slight correction to Ellen's correction, Consumer Lab does have a one month choice for $15.00 at this time.

  • lol  - FFFFFUUUU

    Glad i read this and all the other websites saying CL is fishy.And even if they are legit....well,it's too late now.I wont spend 30 a year.Too much doubt about them now...

  • Richard Lovelace  - thanks for the info on consumer labs

    Where do go for a comparison or evaluation of the supplements that we take?

  • C. Thomas Corriher (Managing Editor)
    avatar

    We get asked that more than any other question. Sadly, this is the one of the few questions that we cannot answer. HealthWyze is a small and vastly underfunded operation. We do not have the resources to research every supplement. We can't even evaluate 1 in a 1000. We help when and where we can.

  • Anonymous

    SO FAR I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO BUY ANY SUPPLEMENTS CAUSE THEY ALL SAY THEY R THE BEST AND I DON'T TRUST ANY. TODAY I SAW "CONSUMERLAB" AND THOUGHT "FINALLY, I CAN BUY..." THEN I READ U POST, MY GOSH...ISN'T ANYBODY OUT THERE HONEST???????

  • Sarah C. Corriher (H.W. Researcher)
    avatar

    Choosing a good supplement company is hard, and it often means using different companies for different specific supplements. You have to read the ingredients, look at the additives, and learn to avoid the poor quality supplements. As a general rule, always avoid the supplements that are found in major retailers. This article may help you some:

    http://healthwyze.org/index.php/component/content/article/151-the- supplementation-problem-and-our-supplement-recommendations.html

  • Lorene Benoit  - How do you know quality supplements

    A good question, which I also spent quite a few years answering, as practitioner of over 30 years. The answer.... find what works. Trust the person and the company from whom you urchase. The prrof is in the pudding! If you iron is low and the herbal combination or mineral brings it up, then it works. I have trusted the company I have used the last 22 years because they work. Get in touch if you want details.

  • Raghbir Singh

    Hello Lorrene, I am very much impressed by yr experience in the medical field regarding supplements. I am from India and buying supplements from USA for my AMD + General health. I will be highly obliged if you can give details of the company that you trust and buy supplements. Thanks again & God Bless U Raghbir Singh

  • Alan Tanner

    I saw and older post you did about consumer lab.com about detail of someone to buy quality product ( herbs) from. wondering if you could give me the name of the company
    thanks Alan

  • Kim

    Hi Lorrene,

    I would be interested to know who you've been using. Thanks!

    Kim

  • Joan Doyle  - Recommended Supplement Company

    Hi Lorene!
    I would be very interested in the supplement company that you are very satisfied with. I have neglected taking supplements because of the hundreds to choose from. I am sure most of them are a waste of money. So I am very interested in your opinion.
    Thanks!
    Joan

  • susan jan  - re: How do you know quality supplements

    I hope this gets to you. Like many other replies, I am also tearing my hair out with frustration about what to do. Profit is everything in our society so who can one believe? If you could let me know the name of the company you are referring to, or any others I can trust, please, please let me know. Thank-you so much.

    Susan Jan

  • Ginger Ratsep  - Glad I Found The Informtion On This Site

    I recently started using Shaklee nutritional products and, in doing my research, I came across ConsumerLab.com. Of course I couldn't get access to the info without paying a fee. Before forking over my money I decided to do a little research and landed here and I'm glad I did. I did think that Consumerlab.com was a little fishy because they were commenting on multi-vitamins products that I had never heard of.

    In the end. I'm confident that the Shaklee products I'm taking are of the highest grade. The multi-vitamin product I take goes through 1,000 quality tests for toxins, heavy metals, etc per batch. Way more than the FDA recommends. And while the FDA "allows" a maximum amount of lead in supplements, Shaklee's products are guaranteed lead free.

    In 2008 the FDA did a study on 324 multi-vitamins for women and children. The study found that 99% of the supplements contained some trace of lead and the FDA was okay with their findings. But then again, the FDA approves all of those drugs with serious side affects.

  • Maggie Barili RN, LAc, Dipl.AC  - regarding Consumerlab.com

    I have suscribed to consumerlab.com for a few years now and lately, I've become more and more suspicious or skeptical of their findings. I use supplements made by reputable companies who also are leaders in as well as gatherers of seemingly legitimate, un-pharmaceutical company sponsored research. I found your article here because I googled my doubts about them. My doubt was finally triggered by their recent post of very badly conducted research regarding supposed dangers of supplements.
    I am quite appreciative of your investigation and journalism of this company. Thank you. Maggie

  • Hidjo  - st johns wort

    I am trying to find a st johns wort supplement that is TRUE 3% hyperficin..sp may be wrong. But I started w consumer labs and now im not so sure I trust them either. Who do I trust? Where can I buy this? Prefably w/5htp.
    I refuse to take prescripts...cymbalta had me w a gun in my mouth!

  • Deb Sheehy  - Consumer Lab
    avatar

    I too was questioning the integrity of Consumer Labs and it started because I know a Doctor who quotes them all the time. A Doctor, by the way, that believes the FDA should be regulating herbs, minerals, vitamins. We all know what that would mean to the industry. So anyway, I asked consumer labs if they accept money from: (pharmaceutical companies of any kind, or income from any research organizations, and or from any corporate sponsorship. Does Consumer Lab accept any money from the government, including grants, donations, or any income on any level?) The response? NONE. I won't use them.

  • alick

    It would be nice if a legitimate testing institute could be found.

  • Shigeo Nakanishi  - Where can we go from here?

    It's a disgrace and crime that our healthcare industry has sunk so low, but with so much government money involved, things are bound to get worse. Thank you for all you are trying to do. Perhaps it is time for all concerned people to support with dedicated funds for unbiased, honest research and reporting, both the good and the bad.

  • C. Thomas Corriher (Managing Editor)
    avatar

    Governmental involvement is a big part of the problems, and it will get much worse in the U.S. with Obama Care. The strategy of shifting unlimited funding into a system that is already broken by its own greed is hardly a solution. It's rewarding the greedy bastards for bankrupting us and destroying our health.

    We could read comments like yours all day. Thanks.

  • John Sander  - That was an excellent article

    So who can I trust. I am so glad I searched consumer lab's reputation before I paid $30. Can you trust consumer reports. There is a chance I may have some vitamin deficiencies so what is a good multivitamin for a 34 year old male? Also this website seems like it has a million different topics. Where do I start?

  • Deirdre Ryan

    Wish I'd rad this before a "in desperation" joining ConsumerLab last year. Because of the medical muck ups that are in Medicine these days -I was FORCED to self treat and 2 son - going very well too. So new to all this and wanting to use the "best" Supplements for 2 chronic illnesses I joined ConsumerLab. foind the Yank pushiness there to join - don't like! But my own research keeps giving me good results with Source Naturals - YET hardly ever see that brand being tested also a few other good Nutritional brands I am using. All sorts of unknown USA brands - buy I am Australian - being tested. & yes I was surprised at Costco Walmart being ticked. Strange reading your site info as I have felt uneasy with them from the big sell push & throughout as they always seem to tread more of a FDA type response in their Reports. In fact hardly ever read it now & consider I was had to a degree. Thank you for your site it is good to read straight talk.

  • Peter Kroke  - Today on the Dr. Oz TV show

    Dr. Tod Cooperman was just on the TV show so I tried to go to the site, consumerlab.com, but instead somehow came here.
    The web site, doctoroz.com should be notified of your findings because he, Dr. Oz, STRONGLY recommended Cooperman, his site and his recommendations.
    Don't know how I got redirected here but glad I did!

  • Sarah C. Corriher (H.W. Researcher)
    avatar

    You're greatly mistaken in your assumption that Dr. Oz cares more about the truth than his own self-promotion. That's why he is on TV and we are not.

  • Chris Evans  - Links to MLM

    This is a great article on the inner workings of the corruption that plagues our society. I wanted to make you aware that I was able to, if you haven't already, link this website to a Multi-Level Marketing company that works in conjunction with this very website. Usana health products claims, like so many private multi-level marketing companies claim, that there vitamins and health products are the best in the market. They use consumerlab.com as there beacon of light to shine upon there products. I am not here to defile usana, I would like to point this out to the rest of you intellectually minded souls. I am not sure what other MLM companies claim to have the best products, but it always seems that these companies in the private "herbal supplement" industry go hand in hand with F.D.A. execs., or private holding companies that benifit when these pyramid scams arise. Your thought and comments please.


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