Advertising claims for weight loss supplement products feed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with the highest settlement costs within the dietary supplement and functional food category, according to a new web-based, members-only tool from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the dietary supplement industry’s leading trade association. The new online tool is a compilation of all available FTC advertising enforcement actions related to dietary supplements and functional foods since 2003, and will be updated quarterly.
According to CRN President and CEO Steve Mister, who testified earlier this year at a Capitol Hill weight loss claims hearing before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance, “There are appropriate and legal ways to market weight loss and other dietary supplement and functional food products, and then there are advertising claims that raise red flags with the FTC. We developed this tool as a service to our member companies so they have a one-stop location to review the kinds of claims that have led to FTC investigations, consent degrees and punitive financial settlements. Companies can study these cases, look at examples of language that put others under FTC scrutiny for enforcement—and then avoid using such language in their own advertising.”
CRN’s searchable compilation indicates that the weight loss category generated the highest settlement costs at $438.4 million, with immunity claims next in line with settlements of $47.2 million and impermissible cancer claims at a distant, but relevant, third place, with claims settlements of $5 million. Said Mr. Mister, “We’re now also starting to see enforcement trends in anti-aging claims and claims addressing diabetes. The data illustrates how active FTC has been in recent years and should be a warning to all companies that the agency will move aggressively to remove claims that it believes mislead consumers.”
This effort is the latest CRN self-regulatory initiative designed to help companies focus on responsible actions that separate them from those companies that flout the extensive laws and regulations overseeing the dietary supplement and functional food industry. In 2006, CRN provided the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus with a multi-year grant enabling NAD to increase its monitoring of dietary supplement advertising. With the initiative still going strong, CRN developed a free searchable compilation of all dietary supplement advertising decisions issued by NAD since the initiative began.
Other CRN self-regulatory initiatives include: CRN’s Safety Considerations for Dosage Recommendations and Labeling; CRN Recommended Guidelines for Caffeine-Containing Dietary Supplements; Best Practices Guide for Enzyme Dietary Supplement Products; and CRN Guidelines for Labeling of Protein in Dietary Supplements and Functional Foods. In addition, CRN members voluntarily adhere to a Code of Ethics.