June 8, 2008 / 7:35 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Herbalife rebuts lead claims, says no safety issues

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By Aarthi Sivaraman

NEW YORK, June 8 (Reuters) - Herbalife Ltd said on Sunday that independent lab tests have confirmed its products do not contain lead levels that would require labeling under a California law, disputing a prior complaint by a critic of the dietary supplement company.

In the complaint, Fraud Discovery Institute, citing two FDA registered independent labs tests, asserted that at least six dietary supplements sold by Herbalife contain dangerous amounts of lead if taken in recommended dosages and exceed requirements for disclosure under California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act’s Proposition 65.

In Sunday’s response to the claims, Herbalife said the institute’s information was “inaccurate and misleading.”

“There was never any health or safety issue with Herbalife products,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Barry Minkow, who founded the institute, recently sent his complaint about Herbalife’s products to California’s Department of Public Health (DPH).

Minkow has $50,000 invested in Herbalife “put” options, betting that the company’s shares will fall. He has also served more than seven years in jail for stock fraud.

A spokeswoman for California’s DPH said Minkow’s complaint had been forwarded to the California Attorney General’s office, which normally handles Proposition 65-related issues.

The California AG’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Herbalife Chief Scientific Officer Steve Henig said in the statement that many natural and processed foods, “as well as our products, which are made with natural ingredients, contain extremely small amounts of naturally occurring lead that can be detected by today’s highly sensitive analytical methods but are insignificant in posing any risk to consumers.”

An Herbalife spokeswoman, Barbara Henderson, told Reuters that to the best of her knowledge, the company had not been approached by California officials and that Herbalife would be happy to talk if they were contacted.

The DPH has also referred a copy of Minkow’s report to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the letter to Minkow from the California agency’s Food and Drug Branch.

FDA officials were not immediately available for comment.

Shares of Herbalife closed at $39.43 on Friday.

Reporting by Aarthi Sivaraman editing by Martin Golan

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