The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced yesterday a settlement against two companies and three individuals for deceptively advertising products marketed as hoodia (Hoodia gordonii) as a weight-loss supplement ingredient. FTC's complaint, issued in April 2009, focused not only on the weight-loss claims for the companies' hoodia but also on the allegation that, "In truth and in fact, in one or more instances, the product sold ... as Hoodia gordonii was not authentic Hoodia gordonii."
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) became aware of concerns about inauthentic hoodia in the market in 2006 and formed a Hoodia Committee to address the issue. AHPA had initiated its Botanical Authentication Program in 1997, consisting of two components: identification of botanicals known to be subject to adulteration in trade and determination of relevant analytical methods that can be used to prevent the specified potential adulteration.
AHPA was therefore able to use this decade of experience to solicit and evaluate analytical methods to assist companies marketing hoodia to make good purchase decisions. Through the efforts of the AHPA Hoodia Committee and the Analytical Laboratories Committee, AHPA has made available on its website since 2007 microscopic, high-performance thin-layer chromatographic (HPTLC) and high-performance liquid-chromatographic (HPLC) analytical techniques to differentiate between authentic and inauthentic hoodia. AHPA member companies Alkemists Pharmaceuticals, CAMAG Scientific Inc., and Flora Research Laboratories provided these methods. The methods are made available at no cost and can be accessed by members and non-members alike.
Promulgating these methods for quality assurance was thus part of AHPA's ongoing initiative--which continues to expand--to provide practical tools to the dietary supplement industry, and the AHPA Botanical Authentication Program is now entering its 15th year.
"AHPA has recognized since 1997 that its members and the entire herbal industry occasionally need to work together to create tools that can be used to address deliberate and accidental ingredient adulteration in the marketplace," commented Michael McGuffin, AHPA president. "Hopefully, the work done on hoodia in our Botanical Authentication Program prevented others from being caught up in FTC's aggressive enforcement against companies accused of falsely claiming that their ingredient is one thing when it is not."
The settlement announced today was against Stella Labs LLC and Nutraceuticals International LLC, as well as the companies' principals, David J. Romeo, Craig Payton, and Deborah B. Vickery. All are prohibited from making any false or unsupported claims about foods, drugs, or dietary supplements, and Payton is also banned from marketing any foods, drugs, or dietary supplements. In addition, the settlement imposed a $22.5 million claim against Romeo, which will be suspended when he forfeits a vacation home and $635,000 in business loans owed to him. The settlement also requires Vickery to pay a $4 million judgment, which has been suspended due to her inability to pay.