It was on October 15, 2019, when Organic & Natural Health Association released its press release detailing our findings on Amazon and CBD. The company’s official policy is to not sell CBD/cannabinoid products to consumers, only hemp oil. At the time, a search on the retailer’s site for CBD generated more than 10,000 product matches. Organic & Natural Health challenged the company’s policy by enlisting Alchemist Labs to independently test Amazon’s best sellers, including New Age Premium Hemp Oil. The product contained 7.7 mg/30 drops CBD.
At issue for us was the fact that quality brands with CBD products that follow labeling standards and are cGMP certified, were being denied by Amazon, while less scrupulous companies were tagging their products with CBD to attract and mislead consumers using false and misleading claims. As it turned out, there were products labeled as Hemp that contained CBD and products marketed as CBD that lacked the ingredient all together. The consumer was being ripped off and the industry was suffering another black eye by these “bad actors” on the world’s largest retail platform.
We responded with a full-on effort to educate consumers on what to look for, where to buy supplements, such as independent and local retailers, and where not to buy supplements, such as gas stations and Amazon. Two months later, The Washington Post, a sister company to Amazon, conducted their own “investigation” (similar to ours) testing 13 hemp products from Amazon and found 12 contained CBD. At the time, Amazon was facing intense scrutiny for carrying counterfeit goods and products without required warnings. According to The Post story, “Lawmakers are paying attention, chastising Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants for their seeming inability to control the huge platforms they’ve created. And Amazon is also facing regulatory scrutiny for its power in e-commerce and the sway it holds over the third-party merchants in its marketplace.” I suspected owner Jeff Bezos’ lawyers were working overtime on the issue.
If the nation’s largest reseller was resting on its legal laurels, and the fact it can’t be held liable for sales of third-party goods, that may have come to an end in May 2020, when NOW Foods initiated its own investigation, testing several products, including COQ10 and SAMe, only to find them “lacking,” aka mislabeled. In December 2020, just over a year from our original press release, Amazon dropped the mic. Now all supplement sellers are marketers required to supply comprehensive testing results, document cGMP compliance and provide up to date COAs. Problem solved? Not so fast….
The industry is unified in its belief that the “bad actors” need to be eliminated across the marketplace, however, this gorilla in the room elected a sledgehammer approach to cleaning up its marketplace and failed to consult with industry. Here are a few of the requirements that require our attention if we are to avoid highly problematic, unintended consequences:
- Requiring that analytical test results must come from an ISO 17025 certified lab eliminates labs that are uniquely equipped to test for certain actives;
- Use of validation by input testing of non-standardized botanical powders demonstrates Amazon’s limited understanding of the inherent challenges involved; and
- Porting over the LegitScript blacklisted products identified by the debunked New York AG “DNA testing” is, at best, ill informed.
The opportunity exists for us to provide additional insight and expertise to Amazon. We are hopeful that all of the industry associations will collaborate to deliver a unified message to Amazon in support of stricter, and sensible, testing requirements. Requirements that both enable legitimate, high-quality products to enter the market, and ensure adulterated products are detected and removed from the market.
I just searched Amazon for CBD and generated 2,000+ results, an 80% reduction in just over a year and a half. Having the largest gas station in the world step into a gatekeeper role and advocate for the existing laws and regulations is a benefit to all of us. It ensures one less Internet domain for those bad actors to hide, hopefully reducing the barrage of bad press that these bogus companies generate. It could ensure that consumers are being sold what it is they wish to buy. It can demonstrate to the world that we do indeed have standards for dietary supplements, a set of facts continually overlooked by media and much of conventional medicine. Amazon could actually become a standard bearer that might, if policies are instituted correctly, serve as a game changer for the industry at large. And, while that might actually increase the number of dietary supplement users in the long run, let’s not forget what Amazon will never be able to do.
Amazon can’t educate customers, each unique in their individual need and situation. It can’t discern your concerns through an algorithm and provide you options for improving sleep, energy, or long COVID or long haulers syndrome. It can’t differentiate between being compliant versus being high quality. It won’t recommend diet and lifestyle changes. It can’t ever replace the value of well-trained staff or qualified healthcare practitioners. At Organic & Natural Health, we are delighted that Amazon can step to up to its obligation and we’ll just do our best to ensure those efforts translate into a benefit for the independent retailers we support.