In mid-June, the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration filed a lawsuit against the makers and marketers of Coral Calcium Supreme for making false claims that the supplement can treat or cure serious diseases, including cancer, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. The FTC alleged that these claims violate the FTC Act, which says that advertising must be truthful, not misleading, and that claims must be substantiated.
The FTC said there is no scientific evidence that calcium offers such health benefits. "Calcium is good stuff. It builds strong bones, but it doesn't cure cancer," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The defendants named in the suit—Robert Barefoot, Kevin Trudeau, Shop America USA LLC and Deonna Enterprises Inc.—market Coral Calcium Supreme on the Internet and in one of the most broadcast infomercials on television. The FTC requested a temporary restraining order from the federal district court to stop the airing of the ads and to freeze Barefoot and Trudeau's assets. The FTC wants to reimburse consumers who purchased the product.
The sales of coral calcium supplements, which are priced higher than other calcium supplements, totaled $8.1 million for the first 24 weeks ending April 19, 2003, according to San Francisco-based market researcher SPINS and ACNielsen.
As part of the crackdown on coral calcium marketers, the FTC and FDA also sent warning letters to 18 Internet coral calcium companies touting unsubstantiated health benefits. The FTC asked the Web site operators to remove such claims immediately.
"We are not surprised by the recent FTC-FDA actions against marketers of coral calcium," said Don McLemore, VP of New Hope Natural Media's Standards Program. (NFM is owned by New Hope.) "As part of our ongoing Standards Program, more than 100 warning letters were sent to Natural Products Expo West 2003 exhibitors, who were in violation of New Hope's Exhibitor Standards and DSHEA for making false, misleading or unsubstantiated claims for their products. A number of the companies cited were selling coral calcium."
In mid-May, the Council for Responsible Nutrition urged the FTC and the FDA to take regulatory action against "miracle cure" ad claims being made by coral calcium marketers. "The entire industry is tarnished when irresponsible companies appear to be getting away with making illegal claims," said CRN President Annette Dickinson.
While the FTC focused on product claims, an independent product tester focused on the quality of Coral Calcium Supreme. The White Plains, N.Y.-based ConsumerLab.com found that Coral Calcium Supreme contained 2.5 micrograms of lead per gram of calcium, which exceeds the state of California's no-significant-risk-level by 1 microgram and requires a warning label to be sold in California.
"We have received many questions from consumers about coral calcium," said Tod Cooperman, M.D., ConsumerLab.com's president. "Coral calcium is not inherently better or worse than other types of calcium. But it is sadly ironic that the most advertised brand also had the most lead."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 7/p. 10