Last month, following the appearance of an article in The New York Times in which Tod Cooperman of Consumerlab.com was quoted as questioning the ability of any dietary supplement company with a wide range of products to “make every product well”, I posted an Open Letter asking Dr. Cooperman to address some concerns relating to his company’s business practices within the supplement industry. After hearing from Dr. Cooperman, I have some follow-up.
Dear Dr. Cooperman,
I took the time to write my previous Open Letter to you because I was concerned that there might be a number of misconceptions within the supplement industry about the business model you have adopted for your company, Consumerlab.com.
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.
The comment you posted following the republication of that letter in the online version of Natural Foods Merchandiser was particularly insightful for its combination of ad hominem attacks on me and its refusal to address many of the questions posed in my letter or the comments that followed on the Merchandiser website with anything other than "look at my company's website". The comments posted by the wife of your Vice President for Research were also insightful for their general self-righteous "the industry should be grateful for Consumerlab.com" tone.
There remain, however a number of questions begging for answers. I have, therefore, decided to address this second letter to you.
- How many labs does Consumerlab.com contract with to conduct its tests? We know that you like to claim that you won't disclose their identity because you allege that they are afraid of retaliation by industry if it finds out who does your work (though some might think that you want to make it difficult for the companies that "fail" your tests to determine the quality of the work done on behalf of your company), so how about just giving a number?
- How many of those labs does Consumerlab.com audit annually to ensure that they are following Good Laboratory Practices and otherwise operating up to standard? The last time I read a sworn deposition given by your company's Vice President for Research the answer was ZERO. If you now conduct audits, how often do you do so?
Does Consumerlab.com accept money from industry? I've taken your advice and looked at your company's website carefully and I see that SUPPLEMENT COMPANIES CAN PAY Consumelab.com money to participate in a "voluntary certification program". According to the website, there is a testing fee paid by the manufacturer and results are proprietary to the manufacturer. However, if a product "Passes," it may appear in CL's Web site listing of the respective Product Review with a footnote indicating that it was tested through the Voluntary Certification Program.
Does this mean that if a dietary supplement company knows that its products are substandard (can't meet label claims or contain heavy metals for instance) it can pay Consumerlab.com money to participate in a "voluntary certification" program and thus ensure that any negative results are never published while a competitor's negative results are broadcast by your company?
- Do you believe that consumers should be told that the company whose products you endorsed as "having good prices" and products that are generally good" in The New York Times pays your company, and thereby you, money to participate the Consumerlab.com voluntary certification program?
- 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?"
- Has Consumerlab.com ever gotten a test result wrong? I know that your company has tested some of my clients' products and while most have "passed" others have not fared so well. The comment posted by Suzanne Shelton suggests that Consumerlab.com might not have gotten things quite right when it tested one of her clients' products. If Consumerlab.com gets a test result wrong (either through bad testing at its contract lab, the use of an incorrect test method, or for any other reason) do you retract your company's mistakes with the same kind of press release that you use to announce negative test results?
I would greatly appreciate it if you would once again deign to take some time out of what I am sure is your very busy schedule to respond to some of these questions so that the members of the industry you purport to police and (more importantly) the consumers you purport to champion can truly understand exactly what Consumerlab.com is.