Hyped Supplement Tests Reveal Questionable Methods and Motivations

vitaminsDr. Oz needs to dig a little deeper into this organization.

Here are a few things we said about ConsumerLab in an earlier report:

One of the most prominent [supplement] testing laboratories does not appear to us to be either independent or impartial.

ConsumerLab.com says its stated mission is “To identify the best quality health and nutritional products through independent testing.” Unfortunately, their claim to independence does not appear to us to be valid.

ConsumerLab.com (CL) approaches dietary supplement makers and asks them to enroll in its “voluntary” testing program—for a fee. CL doesn’t publicly disclose its fee schedule, but we know that one company was charged over $4,000 to test a single product. Companies that pay the fee are guaranteed that if one of their products passes the testing under their Voluntary Certification Program, it gets listed on the site and may carry the CL Seal of Approval—and if it fails the testing, the product will never be identified publicly because the results are “proprietary to the manufacturer”!

However, companies that do not agree to pay for the voluntary certification program risk having their products tested anyway through the firm’s “product review program.” If they fail the test, those failures will be publicized on ConsumerLab.com’s website and in the media, with complete details for sale in CL’s Product Review Technical Reports.

This arrangement strikes us as nothing short of scandalous. It sounds like, “Pay up, and you won’t have to worry about the results. Don’t pay up, and you may be exposed to bad publicity.” What kind of game is this?

You might guess from the name “ConsumerLab” that the company was an actual testing facility. But CL actually farms out its product testing. Although the company admits it’s a “third party group” certifying the quality of dietary supplements, CL does not identify the laboratories it uses. Does the company do an annual audit of the labs it uses to make sure they are following Good Laboratory Practices and otherwise operating up to standard? We don’t know, and they’re not saying. Despite all this, CL is often quoted by mainstream media as being experts on supplement safety and testing.

In its latest report, CL tested forty-two of the leading multivitamin/multimineral products sold in the US and Canada (including three multis intended for pets). They “failed” sixteen products—some for the most specious of reasons.
For example, CL tested how long it took for a product to disintegrate in water, claiming that it is indicative of whether it can be absorbed in the body fast enough. Products taking longer than thirty minutes to dissolve received a failing grade. The stomach, of course, does not digest in water—and the process takes a lot longer than thirty minutes.
The FDA has established what are called Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs). The cGMPs require companies to set specifications for all aspects of its products, including disintegration. One supplement company, NOW Foods, established its own disintegration time of sixty minutes for relevant products, and this met with FDA’s approval. CL’s thirty minute disintegration time isn’t an arbitrary number, however: it’s based on a drug standard. This is absolutely not appropriate for supplements, because supplements are digested as foods.
CL also warned against products for exceeding the upper limits (UL) for nutrients set by the Institute of Medicine, whom we have taken to task for their disastrously low recommendation for vitamin D dosages. As Dr. Robert Verkerk, scientific and executive director for ANH-Europe, points out in the journal Toxicology, ULs are intrinsically flawed, as they focus on a single, most sensitive adverse effect on the most vulnerable sub-population. “Paradoxically,” he writes, “dosages that induce risks in sensitive populations commonly overlap with those which induce benefits in the majority.” The result is dietary supplement dosages that are so weak as to be ineffectual in the majority of the population.
One of the ULs that CL tests for is niacin. As Verkerk notes, “Given that ULs for niacin have been set at 10 and 35mg/d by the Scientific Committee on Food / European Food Safety Authority (EU) and the Institute of Medicine (USA), respectively, it is noteworthy that most of the benefits, such as blood lipid management, occur substantially above these dosages.” Further, he notes that different levels may be reached depending on the form of niacin.
CL “failed” one product for not meeting what CL claimed was the folic acid level claimed on the label, even though the product actually contained not folic acid but natural folates. The method for testing for natural folates (which is the method recommended by the Association of Analytical Communities) is very different from the folic acid test (which is the US Pharmacopeial Convention method). After contacting CL, they claimed to have tested the product using both methods. We’ll just have to take their word on that.
CL also singles out companies that were just within the UL for certain nutrients. If they are within range, why even mention these companies at all?
The simple “approve” or “fail” method for grading multivitamins can itself be misleading. Some supplements may “fail” on very debatable grounds, such as UL or some technicality, while others might have far more serious problems. Lumping them together appears to serve no purpose other than to encourage more companies to buy CL “services.”
As usual, CL’s report does not discuss the methodology they used—how many times they tested a product, what lab was used, etc. Laboratories can be very unreliable, and repeat testing may be necessary. How can they expect anyone to take them seriously while withholding this information?
On a recent TV show, Dr. Mehmet Oz discussed the report—and frankly hyped it—while at the same time giving viewers further misleading information. For example, Dr. Oz claims that FDA doesn’t monitor supplements as they do drugs. That is simply not true. Both have Adverse Event Reporting systems. Both have to follow cGMPs—whether the product is pure, lives up to the information on its label, etc.—which is what CL is essentially testing for.
The show implied that many supplements are contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, with serious health effects. In reality, only one product had any lead contamination at all, at levels that weren’t very high—and it should have been mentioned that it was one of the products marketed for pets.
Dr. Oz claimed that “many” products failed in the aforementioned disintegration test, when in fact only two of them did, and as we have pointed out above, it isn’t the right test.
Supplement safety is an important topic. We don’t have all the answers on this complicated subject, although there is evidence that supplements are the safest part of the food chain. One of the problems is that the highest quality supplements, with the most carefully sourced ingredients and the most checking, often cost more, and many consumers simply cannot afford the extra cost.
We urge consumers to educate themselves as much as possible in order to make an informed choice and we hope to provide more information for you on this important subject in the future. In the meantime, check out our guidelines for making sure your nutritional supplements are of the highest quality.


  1. I saw that Dr. Oz show and had the same thoughts about the disintegration test, just because something breaks down in more than 30 minutes doesn’t mean you don’t absorb it, some foods take hours to digest, but get absorbed. I also found it hard to believe the heavy metal test failures on lead, etc. Frankly, I am not sure sometimes if Dr. Oz is helping or hurting the health freedom movement. He has shows that malign supplements like melatonin, and brings on a so-called expert to tell people that the particular compound is the kiss of death. His R&D department are poor at bringing out useful information from the supplement world, instead they get writer’s block and form shows based on typical media scares. More orginizations need to hold Dr. Oz’s feet to the fire!

  2. Dr. Oz lost all credibility when he flip-flopped on vaccines. He is a sock puppet of the orthodox medical establishment. Unfortunately there are those whose only source of information is their television, and they’ve not been informed of the doctor’s disingenuous methods of staying on the air.

  3. Awesome article. I am reading as much as I can, and that includes reading articles from authors with opposing viewpoints, so I can see what both sides have to say. This was the FIRST time I ever read this information about CL. Thank you so much for informing me.

  4. So Dr Oz is bought and paid for just like everybody else in the media, where all that matters is money, what a surprise.

  5. As a scientist and professional engineer, their processes seem to be oriented primarily to extortion. They need to come clean on who their testing facilities are and how much CL rakes off the top of its charges.
    I am also disappointed in Dr. Oz not being knowledgeable of what he is endorsing and critically reviewing anything that he supports. He has a great reputation and followers that will do whatever he recommends.
    I realize that there are a lot of substandard products on the market, but there are many good ones that will reject a product lot if it doesn’t meet standards.
    If, as a consultant, I was auditing this business and its processes, with the information provided, I would flunk them until they provided transparency to verify their “claims” which it appears that they are refusing to do.

  6. I’d like to see Dr. Oz follow up on this, and, especially, to connect with you and your researchers on this very specific series of events.

  7. Not sure about this one. There IS a need for testing for supplements that does not depend on the FDA. I know that ConsumerLab does charge an annual fee for access to detailed reports. All supplements do not show up on the list…

  8. This article is so long and involved, I don’t know what your intention is. I do take a lot of supplements and for the most part, they work. I am allergic to allopathic medicine big time so that’s all I can say is that I want the choice.

  9. Years ago I learned how incompetent doctors are. Had recurring fevers and docs wanted to test me for AIDS. Said adios docs and never looked back. Saw a naturopath and what I had was allergic reaction to milk. Been taking supplements and getting plenty of full body sun (lamps in winter) – have not had a cold/flu in 20 years. And yeah, did give up milk.

  10. I’m really not surprised by anything Oz has to say anymore. It is obvious to me that he wants to play with the big boys, ie FDA, Monsanto, big Pharma, and all of the groups trying to control what we eat and what we know about what we eat. Every since I heard him reverse his stand on organic food,calling it “elitist” he lost all credibility with me.

  11. Though I’m a current member of their website, the more I read about how they rate products the more skeptical I am about the true ratings. I agree Dr Oz needs to dig deeper!

  12. Dr. Oz lost all credibility when he endorsed the benefits of Organic Foods and then mysteriously bashed organic as elitist and unnecessary and refused to comment.

  13. Dr Oz is a showman, a pitch man, too often not very concerned with facts. This lab is a joke., Oz needs to be more responsible, because many people actually believe what he says.

  14. Excellent article. I never did trust CL, but now I know that my instincts were correct. Thank you for a badly needed education for the public.

  15. Why not forward this info to Dr. Oz to give him a chance to clean up his act. The green coffee bean company he recommended: they hacked into my friends e mail and she “sent” me a link to this website, the one with DR. Oz. I am sure he would like to keep his reputation. ABC

  16. Yeah, this sounds about right:
    Dr Oz’s website also lists wheat germ as a “superfood”, whereas WGA (wheat germ agglutinin), a lectin, may be the most insidious and toxic component of wheat berries.
    Please don’t take my word for this, look this up yourself.

  17. Had Dr. Oz on a DVR schedule until this particular show…NOT anymore. His yaking up this CL guys advocacy of a disgustingly low levels of Vitamin C in that show made my jaw drop. Didn’t even jive with earlier Oz shows. My opinion is he is just a media star. No thought involved.

  18. I found your article to be very informative. I use a system of nutrition, that I will not mention, and have used it for many years. I would not like to have them judged by such a third party. I trust my own research and experience far more than the outfit you have described, or any one for that matter.
    Thank you for the article

  19. exellent article – I think you should demand a reply from consumer lab. They certainly do not appear to have any independence unless you pay the the $4000 fee.

  20. So-called manipulated “scientic” data must not be taken as honest data! It doesn’t take a Phd to see through the bull!

  21. With all due respect, Dr. Oz, although he seems to serve the needs of the public on many occasions – bringing to light new information and hope for increasingly curious health consumers – he often parrots “facts” that are hard to support, and are sometimes potentially damaging. We hope Dr. Oz is not ‘bought and paid for’ by the Medical Establishment, but some evidence which would support this hypothesis is mounting. It would certainly not be the first time Big Pharma has co-opted an individual with a respectable following and good intentions. Just saying…

  22. Dr. Oz recently touted an all natural saffron product, ‘Pure Saffron Slim’ which claims to do wonders in helping weight loss, suppressing apetite, reducing cravings, maximizes fat loss and helps promote a healthy mood. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. It was sold with his advertizing it. I bought 5 bottles based on Dr. Oz’s reputation. Do you know if there has been any problems with this sales project or with anyone taking the saffron capsules. Thank you for your information.

  23. When you explained that the water disintegration method of testing is invalid, it would have been helpful if you gave some information about a better, more valid way of testing… is there another, more accurate way to test the actual absorbability of supplements, specifically addressing where they are absorbed in the digestive system? And when you single out a single brand (NOW), pointing out how it has its own system of testing, I wondered if you could have given more information about whether this was a negative or positive thing. As it stands, it appears negative, even though I believe the information might have been meant just as an example of varying standards, and not as a way to point a finger at that brand. Still, I use NOW for many of my supplements, and I am left with doubt in my mind.
    Also, I have long wondered about CL and its policies. I used to be a subscriber, but found its reporting method to be cumbersome, confusing and not very helpful, so stopped my subscription a couple months ago.
    Thank you for extremely thorough and enlightening reporting. Excellent writing, as well.

  24. I would love to know more of the high quality supplements. I for one am sick and tired of wasting my money to only find they do not work for me. I am willing to spend more money for a good quality supplement. Most use Magnesium Stearate which has a negative reaction for me and sends me rushing to the restroom. I signed up for CL at the time but when I asked they test other products I was told to contact the companies and ask them to have this company test their products. I for one found this odd but knew that companies could join. I did not realize that if a product failed though it would not be shown. Thanks for this information.

    1. Yes, excipient-free which means no magnesium stearate or propylparaben, plus many other garbage ingredients that harm the body. I’ve found a great supplement company, Dr. Marshall’s Quantum Nutrition Labs, formerly Premier Research Labs. His website is http://www.qnlabs.com and healthline.cc and he has a radio show with lots of good need-to-know information similar to Click ‘n Clack on Car Talk. You give him your age and weight and your problem and can tell you exactly what to take and it’s the best on the planet.
      For years I took all kinds of crap vitamins and supplements only to feel worse. But know with Dr. Marshall’s premium products, my body is responding. Before discovering him I was paying for expensive pee and thru my Naturopath! I thought I was in good hands with her but she’s young and doesn’t really get it yet.

  25. I would hope that you will send a letter to Dr. Oz and to his network, notfying both him and them of these issues with CL. Dr Oz needs to be calledout on this spurious claims–for ex., that the FDA does not test supplements!
    I am happy to see this article because I signed on for CL’s newsletter (or whatever they send around) assuming that they are up to standards and not misleading. I find it objectionable that they don’t reveal the names of the labs they use for tests, and also their practice of publicising failed tests in the case of manufacturers who don’t pay, while keeping the fail results of paid-for tests secret.

  26. One of your claims in the above article is not true. Pharmanex has for instance received the CL-decal for their multivitamin, but received a ‘fail’ for one of their other products for labeling infraction.
    I have heard amazing claims from sales reps for products that failed – and very vague explanations as to why they didn’t report what would clearly have been illegal, direct blackmail.
    CL does not make up their own standards for testing – you may disagree with the ULs set by Institute of Medicine, but that’s a separate debate.

    1. You point out that one of CL’s clients received a fail for a minor infraction, which is not the same as a fail for product effectiveness. This does not make the assertion that CL is biased in its reporting false. What percentage of CL’s clients fail? Does the test that CL use accurately measure what it says it measures? What is the percentage of non-client product fails to client product fails?
      You also don’t address the fact that the one supplement found to contain lead was for pets. To have this report taken seriously there would have to be transparency, with the details available for public review, which CL does not do.
      As someone else pointed out. this is about as useful as the Good Housekeeping Seal of approval and should be given the same weight.
      Wonderful marketing too, though.

  27. I wish politicians would mind their own business and stop interfering in people’s choices of how we want to live and use perfectly safe natural supplements. The Senator who always rails about the dangers of supplements should see a philologist and get his head examined.

  28. Another example of the egregious lies and distortions of our Military-Industrial Complex Culture, the marriage of BIG BUSINESSES AND AND BIG GOVERNMENT screwing over The American Public!! It’s all about MONOPOLY AND POWER, not about TRUTH!!! It’s amazing, the only honest people now left in this country are those engaged in SMALL BUSINESSES, the bigger you are (and that includes the Banksters, The Banks, The International Banking Cartel) the more CORRUPT AND CRIMINAL is your behavior!!! This is disgusting, America needs Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, and a Revolution to go with it!!! The higher up we go in our society the LESS ACCOUNTABILITY there is!!! Sad, Sad, Sad world!!! Eisenhower warned us long ago, we fell asleep, except for Ralph Nader!!!! God Bless Him!!!

  29. Saw that, looked at the Consumer Lab list they provided access to free for a window of time linked to the show. Everything you pointed out fits with the extensive research I’ve done on supplements, including the questionable reasons for failing some, and passing others. One thing I did NOT see addressed was the synthetic vs. food based sources for these supplement nutrients – generally synthetics are not as good for you, sometimes have an adverse effect. That said, it is laughable that the medical establishment, and too often the media which caters to it – which doles out deadly pharmaceuticals like candy, is constantly pointing the finger at supplements as “dangerous” – I think the REAL statistics make that case every time. Particularly when you pair the ugly side effects in so many of these drugs with the statistics on their efficacy. Somebody is playing with the results when Big Pharma tests their “wonder drugs” and the docs are complicit in doling it out to us Guinea Pigs in the general public. Yeah, there is a lot of fudging on ingredient proportions in supplements but when you compare both costs and death tolls, the worse supplement makers are innocents when put alongside Big Pharma….

  30. Dear ANH-USA participants; personally I consider my body to be my own. Alternattive medicines, organic foods, chiropractic and accupunture had kept me working till I became overwhelmed by damage from accidents, injuries and weight gain due to stopping smoking and having to take seated work for the last 20 years of work. I honestly believe I would have not been able to keep working as long as I did WITHOUT the afore mentioned alternatives. I have paid OUT OF POCKET for alternative healing methods since 1979 and a horse accident. The greedy industrial, corporate and federal groups may think they “know what is best” for public health and safety … they have NO IDEA. As I said my body AND my money are my own. Sincerely HRN

    1. Heather, check out Dr. Marshall’s “interference fields” work. I’m about to get mine cleared from body traumas and it would surprise you to learn what qualifies as trauma, too. You sound resigned to just living with it, but you don’t have to as there is a better way. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired you must explore Dr. Marshall’s amazing work in the field of QRA (quantum reflex analysis) and nutrition – he has his own lab and a radio show 6 days a week. Give him a call at 1-800-370-3447 and/or go to his website and listen to his archives at http://www.qnlabs.com and healthline.cc. Life is too precious and meant to be enjoyed, not suffered thru.

  31. This is similar to the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” which is limited to those manufacturers who advertise in the Good Housekeeping magazine.

  32. i am so sick of the government getting these companies to do their dirty work. leave our supplements alone please mr. government. they heal me better than any chemical medicine.

  33. ANH-USA appears to have done an excellent job of investigating conflict of interest in ConsumerLab testing and reporting methods. The expression ‘follow the money’ seems to apply here. Dr. Oz, in applying principles of fairness should point out potential for biased and skewed results from CL testing. Requiring manufacturers to pay $4000 to be ‘insured’ against negative test results being published, brings to mind words like protection and extortion. While CL has a right to be paid for their work, fully disclosing all names of tested products would provide them greater credibility. I would also encourage them to consult with Consumer Reports which is a model of independence and objectivity. The final arbiter in determining supplement quality and appropriateness is one’s own body. A nutritional professional practitioner can certainly improve the likelihood of finding the right supplement(s) for ones individual needs and body chemistry.

    1. Dr. Oz has proven himself to be aligned with GMO’s and has backtracked on his recommendation of organic foods. He has sold out and is not to be trusted.

  34. Like the Better Business Bureau, which blackmailed companies into paying for approval or blacklisting them.

  35. I really don’t pay any attention to Dr Oz. He IS obviously bought and paid for ( or just plain scared of someone). I lost my respect for him when he said that Organic foods are not inherently better than factory farm raised. Wrong, wrong, wrong! And there are studies that have proven that organics are higher in vitamins, minerals, etc. than factory grown. Don’t even get started on GMOs!

    1. I agree with you about Dr. Oz. He’s a sell-out – like President Obama – being led around by his nose and totally clueless.

  36. Oz had dropped off my credibility list a long time ago. Then he supported GMO’s as known to be safe, no different from the original corn-soy-beet etc. Now I think he needs to be off the air. Too bad. He has such an opportunity to be part of a solution, rather than exacerbating a huge problem.

  37. Good to know, thank you for paying attention to this and confirming that there’s a lot of chicanery out there in supplement-land. Companies whose only goal is to make money. All supplements and vitamins are not created equally and most have garbage ingredients called excipients, to boot! It sucks to discover this the hard way, when you think you’re doing your body good by taking them.
    That’s why I thank God for discovering the very best supplement company in the land – Premier Research Labs which is now Quantum Nutrition Labs run by the best Master Nutritionist, Dr. Robert J. Marshall. Everyone should be consulting him and it’s so easy with his trained (QRA) practitioners all over the country. Check it out for yourselves at http://www.qnlabs.com. It’s truly “nutrition that really works!” But don’t take my word for it,

  38. Dr. Oz is a fraud in that few of his recommendations or opinions are based on sound medicine.
    And I don’t believe he cares. He is an entertainer, nothing more. When he has an “expert” on his show talking about the abuse of Melatonin, who talks nothing but rubbish that one may take 1 mg and not 3mg or overdose on 5mg, and only discusses Melatonin as a means to reset ones circadian clock and dismisses it entirely as a means to stay asleep in a healthy manner, he described it as dangerous without understanding that Melatonin is a very valuable and powerful anitoxidant and that women with breast cancer take up to 30mg per day.
    He peddles “snake oil”

  39. From a different perspective, mainstream and/or local general newspapers are directed by their publishers not to print letters from those who criticize those who fund them. Unflattering commentary by readers ends up in the round file. I sent 3 letters, the last of which said, in essence, that modern medicine ‘cures’ little or nothing, and only ‘treats’ symptoms.
    As a medical worker for over 25 years, I knew my subject. I feel that in the USA, for the most part, doctors are still ‘practicing’, and treating by the numbers. It was my contention that all a doctor really needs these day is a desk with a PDR (Physician’s Desk Reference) sitting on it, If a symptom is known, reach over, flip through and see what the PDR lists for drugs formulated to treat it, and write a prescription. Next!
    Of course, the letter was never published, like the other two before it, which took issue with a bogus medical ‘study’ that caused who knows how many vitamin takers to stop using them, based on the ‘findings’ of this supposed study. Life Extension Institute ultimately published a blistering article on that ‘study’, in agreement with all I had written.
    If all consumers could see what Alliance for Natural Health publishes and have the benefit of the truth, there would be many more voices raised against the medical machine and Big Pharma, both of whom are dishonest and misguided. All one can hope for is that the families of these frauds aren’t punished for their transgressions with ill health. However, should that happen, then perhaps they would serve as object lessons. But, it’s doubtfull.

  40. Thank you. I thought I was an educated consumer, even joined CL at one time. I won’t bother reading them again, and I certainly will not give them any of my money. You have performed a valuable service.
    Thank yoiu.

    1. Wow, what an eye-opener. Thanks to your wonderful organization, we know the truth. I am a huge fan of supplements and vitamins, so all the info I can get is useful. I’ll know not to ever trust the “CL” stamp again! You are to be admired for this truth revealing article. Well done and thanks again!

  41. It is good to see different angles how one gets approved and some disproved as being beneficial. it is up to us consumers to know which supps are reliable and safe to use with reputable companies that adhere to good safe replication practices. One wants to pay to be esteemed highly as the higheest qualities. Some are age old stuff to be carried on aka using whole foods for nutrieints and avoiding those that are contaminated. It would be good to see what the white binding substances are in a tab ot other coatings as to being damaging to ones’ health. We need more infos with more disclosures so we know what are are ingesting. Many of us have different constitutents makeup individually that one is of benefit for one and not the other.

  42. Consumer Lab’s panel of “experts” consists of medical doctors, all conventional MD’s– not a single Naturopath on the staff. The articles written about supplements reflect this bias and at times I find these “authoritative reviews” to be utterly hilarious. That’s why I keep my subscription…
    To MD’s, there is no difference between synthetic vitamins and the vitamins found in food. As if that weren’t cringe-worthy enough, Consumer Labs panel goes on to state in many of their reviews that there is a “lack of clinical evidence” to support the use of natural supplements for therapeutic purposes. Yikes! How on earth did the human race ever survive millions of years without pharmaceutical drugs?
    Clearly, Consumer Labs is a fraud in and of itself, passing itself off as an impartial entity. Still, in the interest of knowing what the medical establishment is saying, I force myself to read the material and understand their arguments. But if the panel at Consumer Labs represents the best that conventional medicine has to offer, I think my profession as a Holistic Health Coach is safe.

  43. It’s simple. What ConsumerLab is doing is called “extortion.” It’s the same protection racket that the Mafia has been in. And it’s a crime.

  44. You folks at ANH are so good at providing us with petitions we can sign, how about one to get Dr. Oz to site facts and be honest, or to get him off the air?

  45. I discontinued reading the CL newsletter and cancelled my subscription to the magazine several years ago. I got tired of the mainline emphasis.
    I agree it would be nice to get all kinds of studies and tests on everything, but if the companies who stand to benefit from sales are paying for the tests, that automatically sends up a red flag for me. Drugs and supplements and other consumer products should be tested by independent facilities with clear reputations. Also, if something is pushed on TV, the “free” demo materials and all other financial ties should be revealed. I won’t hold my breath.
    The costs are prohibitive to do a study, just as they are to run for political appointments. Most supplement manufacturers do not have the cash the way big pharma does. There is just too much room for lack of accountability in our new world. We depend on sites like yours to clarify the issues.

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