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UNITE HERE Cautions FDA Over Chinese Pharmaceutical Giant’s Purchase of Stake in GNC

UNITE HERE has sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, urging him to investigate the pending acquisition of a significant stake in vitamin store chain GNC by China’s Harbin Pharmaceutical Group. The letter details Harbin’s history of regulatory violations in China.

The proposed transaction between Harbin and GNC was announced in February of this year. According to GNC, Harbin will invest $300 million in GNC and create a joint venture for manufacturing, marketing, sale and distribution of GNC-branded products in China. The deal would make Harbin the largest shareholder in GNC.

“In China, Harbin has repeatedly been cited or sanctioned by government agencies for problems with its products – no fewer than 6 times since 2015, and three times in 2018 alone,” said Jeff Nelson, Deputy Director of Research at UNITE HERE. “Is it appropriate for a company like this to become the largest shareholder in GNC, which claims to set the standard in the nutritional supplement industry?”

In January, a Chinese provincial regulator sanctioned Harbin Pharmaceutical due to the presence of ammonium in certain of its drugs in excess of regulatory limits.Reportedly, this was the second time within six months that Harbin Pharmaceutical and its subsidiaries were sanctioned for this problem.

Harbin products which have been cited by Chinese regulators have included gingko pills, Siberian ginseng, and Chinese licorice. According to GNC’s website, the company sells gingko pills, Siberian root, and licorice root.

“With this track record, we do not think it is appropriate for Harbin to own a substantial portion of a significant vitamin and supplement retailer in the United States. We urge the FDA to investigate this acquisition,” said Jeff Nelson.

A major shareholder of Harbin, CITIC Capital, is part of the larger CITIC Group. CITIC owns one Marriott hotel in China. Viem Kwok, chairman of CITIC Resources Holdings, is the chairman of three companies which own three Marriott hotels in China, including two in Tibet.


UNITE HERE represents 270,000 members working in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries in the U.S. and Canada including 17,000 employed by Marriott International. is maintained by the UNITE HERE Research Department.

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Last Updated: 14-Nov-2018