It was just too good to be true. The dietary supplement Seasilver, sold at $39.95 for a 32-ounce bottle, was promoted as a clinically proven treatment for more than 650 diseases, including cancer and AIDS, and also as a weight loss aid. But the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration filed a complaint against Carlsbad, Calif.-based Seasilver USA and Americaloe Inc., saying the companies made false and unsubstantiated claims about the product's abilities.
The agencies took actions to halt Seasilver's marketing, which, according to the FTC, included television and radio infomercials, Web sites, spam e-mails and a 28-page brochure. They also seized Seasilver's inventory and are seeking restitution for consumers who purchased the product.
The Seasilver complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada on June 12, has become the next case in Operation Cure.All, a joint effort by the FTC, FDA, Health Canada, Canada's Competition Bureau and state attorneys general to crack down on fraudulently marketed health products. In June, the FTC and FDA took similar action against the makers and marketers of the dietary supplement Coral Calcium Supreme.
Richard Cleland, assistant director of advertising practices for FTC, said this case is part of an intentional increase in enforcement. "Are we trying to send a message?" Cleland said. "You're darn right we are."
But government agencies aren't the only ones who can take action. Retailers can help protect consumers from false marketing or fraudulent products, according to FTC's Division of Advertising Practices senior attorney Christa Vecchi.
Vecchi says retailers are in a good position to ask suppliers, "Where's your substantiation?" She suggests retailers ask specifically about clinical trails, and not be satisfied with claims from only test-tube studies.
Retailers can also help keep consumers informed about supplements claims and ingredients. "An educated consumer is a great weapon against fraud," said Vecchi.
Editor's Note: Howard Beales, director, Bureau of Consumer Protection for the FTC, and John Taylor, head of field operations and former head of enforcement for the FDA, will present a seminar on advertising regulations for the natural products industry at Natural Products Expo East, Friday, Sept. 5, from 2 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 8/p. 11