ConsumerLab is a private company that has supplements tested and generates reports for a fee. Here’s my question: If you knew that ConsumerLab was getting paid by the industry they claim to police, would it change your belief in their reports?
ConsumerLab uses the word “independent” throughout their website. But they take money from supplement manufacturers for “a proprietary certification program, licensing fees, contents re-publication license fees and advertising.” Results of proprietary tests are owned by the supplement company. What if ConsumerLab included a brand in their testing lineup that performed poorly? Would they strike it from their report if the company paid them many thousands over the years for proprietary testing? I don’t know. But it strikes me as a conflict of interest.
It strikes Marc Ullman the same way. In an open letter to ConsumerLab founder and president, Tod Cooperman, Ullman said:
Your failure to let the consumers that you claim to be so interested in protecting know that the companies you are endorsing pay at least part of your salary seems to be, at best, a grave oversight.
In a follow-up letter, Ullman itemized his concerns to Cooperman:
In particular, I felt a need to raise issues relating to your apparent practice of taking money from members of the industry that Consumerlab.com purports to police; your endorsement of a product line manufactured by a company that seems to have paid Consumerlab.com a significant amount of money over the years; the number of labs Consumerlab.com contracts with since it is not a “lab” itself; whether Consumerlab.com audits the numerous labs it pays to conduct its testing and; yet another of your seemingly endless series of negative comments about the supplement industry.
Marc Ullman is a partner in the Ullman, Shapiro & Ullman law firm. Its clients include supplement manufacturers. Still, he has a point.
ConsumerLab is not a lab. They send supplements to third-party labs. Are these labs independent? What’s their track record? We, as consumers, don’t know. Also … Why wouldn’t a supplement company go to a lab directly? Why pay ConsumerLab? Is it to ensure a positive review? Or a convenient omission?
So, ConsumerLab is not a lab, and does not exist purely for the consumer. They take money from both consumers and industry. How can they be objective? If it is true that, “ConsumerLab.com reports that its main revenue comes from sales of online subscriptions,” why not stop taking industry money? Disavow your relationship with the supplement industry and sell yourself as impartial.
They seem to be, primarily, a money-making middleman.
This is why private companies should not be taking the lead on supplement testing. The FDA should, but they’re not, and they never will, because there’s too much money to be made selling grass clippings. (That does not mean I don’t think supplements are helpful, it means I think they should be evaluated, independently, by reputable entities.)
Thank you, Virginia, for the heads-up.