Two new suits were filed alleging that companies made false, unsupported claims about their lines of probiotic products and arthritis pills.
A New Jersey class action alleges that although Bayer HealthCare promotes its Phillips Colon Health Probiotic products as providing “overall digestive health” because the line “replenishes the good bacteria when diet and stress cause constipation and upset your natural balance,” those claims are false and misleading. The complaint further alleges that Bayer’s advertising and labeling claims that the digestive and immune health benefits touted by the company are “based on scientific evidence,” but the company’s formulation of “3 strains of good bacteria” has not been scientifically studied or tested.
According to the plaintiff, “scientists have yet to settle on a definition of what a ‘probiotic’ even is,” nor have they “mapped the tens of thousands of bacteria strains in the human body’s intestinal flora, and do not know whether increasing one type of bacteria provides health benefits.” The complaint also states that Bayer has no studies that provide substantiation, clinical or otherwise, for its claims about Phillips’ digestive health and immune system claims.
The suit seeks to certify a nationwide class alleging violations of New Jersey’s consumer fraud law and asks for a corrective advertising campaign, an injunction, and monetary damages.
In the second case, a California resident filed suit against Schiff Nutrition, alleging that the company’s claims for its line of Move Free Advanced dietary supplements are false and misleading. According to the complaint, despite the fact that there is no cure for the three major symptoms of arthritis – pain, joint damage, and limited motion – Schiff markets its joint health dietary supplements as “clinically tested” to rebuild joint cartilage, improve joint function, and reduce joint pain in less than seven days.
The plaintiff alleges that neither of the primary active ingredients in the products – glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate – has competent scientific evidence to support their usage to treat the major symptoms of arthritis. “Despite inadequate testing and no scientifically valid confirmation that Move Free is an effective joint treatment – let alone an effective treatment for all joints in the human body, for customers of all ages and for all stages of joint disease – [Schiff] states on the Products’ packaging and labeling that Move Free, with its ‘clinically tested’ formula, will “strengthen, protect and rebuild joints” and “start comforting sore joints in less than 7 days,” according to the complaint.
The suit also claims Schiff “reaped enormous profits” from its false marketing of the Move Free line, with 2010 sales in excess of $100 million.
Alleging violations of California’s consumer protection law, the suit seeks monetary damages for a class of California residents, an injunction, and a corrective advertising campaign.
To read the complaint in Worthington v. Bayer HealthCare, click here.
To read the complaint in Lerma v. Schiff Nutrition, click here.
Why it matters: Both probiotics and dietary supplements have faced scrutiny from regulators and consumer suits recently. Earlier this year the Federal Trade Commission settled with a subsidiary of Nestlé over charges the company made deceptive health benefit claims about children’s drink BOOST Kid Essentials, a probiotic drink for children. Dannon paid $21 million to the FTC and 39 state attorneys general over allegations the company had exaggerated the health benefits of its Activia probiotic products. The company also settled a consumer suit over similar allegations for $45 million. And in a response to concern about dietary supplements, the Dietary Supplement Full Implementation and Enforcement Act of 2010 was introduced in the last congressional session to ensure the Food and Drug Administration’s implementation and enforcement of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act.