FTC Urged to Investigate Purported Consumer Watchdog

— Trade Association Petitions Agency to Stop ConsumerLab.com’s Deceptive Business Practices —

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 13, 2005 — The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate deceptive business practices by ConsumerLab.com and take appropriate action.

The CRN complaint states that ConsumerLab.com—which represents itself as a consumer watchdog testing dietary supplements—is in reality a for-profit company that solicits money from the makers of products it plans to have tested. Those that pay have positive results highlighted and negative results quashed; those that don’t pay have negative results highlighted and positive results obscured.

"Until now, nobody has looked behind the curtain and exposed ConsumerLab.com’s tactics," said CRN President Annette Dickinson, Ph.D. "It is a business, not a watchdog—one that intimidates manufacturers to pay for its services. We ask the FTC to lift the veil this company uses to disguise its true nature."

ConsumerLab.com promotes itself as "a leading provider of consumer information and independent evaluations of products that affect health and nutrition." Contrary to the image it projects of an actual testing facility, ConsumerLab.com essentially is a three-person operation, and its business address is a UPS drop box in White Plains, N.Y. It farms out product testing, but does not make public the identity of the laboratories it uses.

Here is how it works: ConsumerLab.com approaches dietary supplement makers requesting that they enroll in its "voluntary" testing program—for a fee. Those that pay are guaranteed that products failing the subsequent testing will not be identified publicly. Companies that do not pay risk having their products tested anyway and, if they fail, being publicized on ConsumerLab.com’s Web site and in the media.

Meeting ConsumerLab.com’s standards is no guarantee that a manufacturer will be treated fairly. Only products from companies that pay up and pass are mentioned on the free portion of ConsumerLab.com’s Web site. Products that pass but are made by companies that don’t pay are listed only on the private portion of the site. These products are absent from the public site, giving the impression to non-subscribers that they must have failed because they aren’t listed. And even the 20,000 Web subscribers, who pay $24 a year for "full access" to product tests, aren’t told that ConsumerLab.com has agreed to suppress failing results for companies that paid up.

CRN and its member companies recognize the value and importance of legitimate third-party testing programs—such as those run by U.S. Pharmacopeia and NSF International—that operate in an honest and aboveboard manner and help consumers select high-quality products. The ConsumerLab.com business model, by contrast, is unfair and deceptive.

CRN is asking the FTC to make ConsumerLab.com: 1) make public all future test results regardless of whether companies have paid money to ConsumerLab.com; 2) release testing criteria and methodologies in advance; 3) identify the contract laboratories that actually do its testing; and 4) change its name to one that does not falsely imply that it does its own testing.

"ConsumerLab.com’s entire business model is based upon threat and deception," Dr. Dickinson said. "Forcing it to come clean will take away its ability to mislead the media and the public."

Founded in 1973, CRN is a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing dietary supplement industry ingredient suppliers and manufacturers. CRN members adhere to a strong code of ethics, comply with dosage limits and manufacture dietary supplements to high quality standards under good manufacturing practices. For more information on CRN, visit www.crnusa.org.

A copy of CRN’s FTC complaint is at: http://www.crnusa.org/pdfs/CRNFTC_ConsumerLabs011205.pdf

Judy Blatman

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