Media watchdog needs sharper teeth, says resveratrol player

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Federal trade commission

Californian ingredients supplier Resveratrol Partners has
criticized the National Advertising Division of the Council of
Better Business Bureaus (NAD), a voluntary media watchdog, for
failing to enforce its own rulings.

Resveratrol Partners recently challenged a series of print, online and labeling being claims made by competitor, Biotivia for its resveratrol product Transmax, some of which were upheld by NAD. Most, however, were deemed "sufficiently supported"​. Resveratrol Partners said those claims NAD advised New York-based Biotivia to alter or remove in its March 28 ruling remained on its website. Claims ​These related to its products being manufactured in a GMP-certified manufacturing facility, imagery that suggested its products were derived from grapes when they were sourced from the Knotweed plant as well as several disease-reduction claims. "Only after three appeals did [the NAD] issue an addendum to their review, stating discontinuance of such claims is an action NAD deemed appropriate and warranted,"​ said Resveratrol Partners founder Bill Sardi. "We wonder if the NAD has become too soft on business? In this instance they produced only a slap on the wrist while allowing the alleged offender to violate federal laws."Procedures ​ New York-based NAD operates a voluntary service whereby companies pay it a fee to scrutinize "the truth and accuracy"​ advertising and marketing materials. While its rulings are not legally binding, NAD communications director Linda Bean told NutraIngredients.com 95 percent of companies that use its services comply with the rulings. She said NAD gave companies time to alter their marketing after a ruling but would be following up on Biotivia to ensure it made the necessary changes. If they are still not forthcoming, NAD can refer transgressions to "relevant enforcement authorities"​ such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Resveratrol Partners paid NAD a $6000 fee to have Biotivia's claims assessed. But the industry-funded organization has been criticized for adjudicating over matters for which it is not necessarily qualified. Sardi said the fact companies were not obligated to publicly reveal all studies backing claims, weakened NAD rulings. Biotivia refused to publicise a clinical resveratrol bioavailability study. "The manufacturer claims the unpublished experiment it conducted is a trade secret,"​ Sardi said. "[The NAD] has caste itself into the position of being an arbiter over a scientific issue for which it has no expertise. Furthermore, because [the NAD's] contract says it works confidentially with companies, it is unwittingly serving as a shield to keep consumers in the dark. Any studies conducted to corroborate advertising claims can not be examined in full." ​But Bean said confidentiality was vital for the system to operate effectively. "The advertiser is allowed to submit information (trade secrets, proprietary info) on a confidential basis for our review,"​ she said. "We see it - the challenger doesn't see it. That provision was put in place nearly 40 years ago to assure that parties wouldn't challenge each other's advertising simply for the opportunity to review confidential information." ​ NAD assessment criteria require advertisers to possess substantiation for the claims they make. Challengers can also present evidence for NAD backing their challenge. Biotivia's James Betz said its website claims would be altered by the end of the week. The claims Resveratrol Partners challenged included:

  • Enhanced bioavailability

  • A short half life

  • Promotion of longevity enzymes

  • Entirely natural and GM-free

  • Preserved in nitrogen gas to ensure a unique 24-month active life

  • Manufactured in an FDA-certified plant

  • Processed in an oxygen and UV-free clean room

  • Used by researchers to test against resveratrol's effects against cancer, dementia, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's diabetes and arterial disease

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