KANSAS CITY — Food and beverage industry executives should take notice of the news this week of New York’s Attorney General asking such retailers as Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens and GNC to halt the sales of some store brand herbal supplements because DNA testing indicated many did not contain ingredients specified on the label. While the legal ramifications of the request remain unclear, what must not be lost is the role DNA testing is playing in regulatory efforts.

This is not a new phenomenon. DNA testing has been used to uncover pork being sold as beef in Europe, seafood species substitutions in the United States., and lower quality grades of olive oil being marketed and sold as premium products. As the costs of conducting such testing efforts continue to fall, it will be more important than ever for food companies to ensure control over their supply chains and the authenticity of the raw materials used in manufacturing. This is especially important as such specialized ingredients as quinoa, acai, imported chili peppers, etc. become more common in mainstream products.

In New York, the DNA testing performed was part of an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s office that allegedly showed that, overall, 21% of the test results from store brand herbal supplements verified DNA from the plants listed on the products’ labels — with 79% coming up empty for DNA related to the labeled content or verifying contamination with other plant material. The retailer with the poorest showing for DNA matching products listed on the label was Wal-Mart. Only 4% of the Wal-Mart products tested showed DNA from the plants listed on the products’ labels, according to the Attorney General’s office.

While overall 21% of the product tests confirmed DNA barcodes from the plant species listed on the labels, 35% of the product tests identified DNA barcodes from plant species not listed on the labels, representing contaminants and fillers. A large number of the tests did not reveal any DNA from a botanical substance of any kind. Some of the contaminants identified include rice, beans, pine, citrus, asparagus, primrose, wheat, houseplant, wild carrot, and others. In many cases, unlisted contaminants were the only plant material found in the product samples.

While the situation in New York is hopefully unique, it highlights the specificity with which regulatory efforts, by public and private entities, may be used to assess the accuracy of some product claims. If you want to get a sense of where this may be going, it is recommended you visit the web site of a company like AuthenTechnologies, Richmond, Calif. This is not meant to be an endorsement of the company or its services, but an eye opening look into what may be the future of quality control – A future that has the potential to alter many aspects of the supply chain.