In a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has urged the agency to ban the use of the herbal ingredient Ginkgo biloba in foods and dietary supplements, citing a National Toxicology Program (NTP) report which states that the ingredient causes cancer in lab animals. The watchdog group calls on FDA to give the industry a “reasonable time” to comply with the directive and then “seize whatever products remain on shelves to protect consumers.”

Industry groups, including the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), have challenged CSPI’s action and claim that the doses administered to the laboratory animals were much too high to show whether Gingko biloba is unhealthy for humans. “Ginkgo biloba has literally been used for thousands of years, and this attempt by CSPI to discredit this safe and beneficial dietary supplement demonstrates an irresponsible misinterpretation of both the science and the intent of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in reviewing ginkgo,” said CRN President and CEO Steve Mister. “This premature evaluation from CSPI reveals an abuse of its position, a lack of understanding about the regulation of food by FDA, and presents a true disservice to consumers.”

According to CSPI, the NTP report found “clear evidence” that Ginkgo caused liver cancer in mice and “some evidence” that it caused thyroid cancer in rats. NTP researchers reportedly told The New York Times that the number of cancers found in the mice exceeded numbers previously seen in their lab. Supplement industry representatives argued that NTP used ginkgo extract not used in supplements sold in the United States, but NTP evidently claimed that the composition of the extract it tested falls within the range of what is sold.

“It used to be the case that the only problems associated with Ginkgo were the unfounded and deceptive claims by manufacturers that it helped memory,” said CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson. “Now we know these make-believe benefits are far outweighed by a real risk of cancer.” See CPSI News Release, June 3, 2013; CRN News Release, June 4, 2013.