A Vogel Alkaline Powder – ASA ruling

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Posted 11 March 2012

Mr Charleston lodged a consumer complaint against a print advertisement that was featured in The Star newspaper during 2011. 

The advertisement asks the question, “Feeling acidic?” and states “A body with a constantly raised acidic level can become ill”. It then continues to state, “A. Vogel Multiforce Alkaline Powder contains calcium, magnesium and potassium and includes Vitamin C in its whole form as an antioxidant to help protect the body against the associated damaging effects of oxidative stress caused by a high dietary acid load…” 

The complainant submitted that the advertisement offers no evidence for the claims made. 

The ASA agreed and ruled against Bio-Strath.

A Vogel Alkaline Powder / K Charleston / 18429
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Kevin Charleston Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
SA Natural Products (Pty) Ltd Respondent

http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=5978
01 Mar 2012

Mr Charleston lodged a consumer complaint against a print advertisement that was featured in The Star newspaper during 2011.

The advertisement asks the question, “Feeling acidic?” and states “A body with a constantly raised acidic level can become ill”. It then continues to state, “A. Vogel Multiforce Alkaline Powder contains calcium, magnesium and potassium and includes Vitamin C in its whole form as an antioxidant to help protect the body against the associated damaging effects of oxidative stress caused by a high dietary acid load…”

The complainant also took issue with other claims namely:

“So how can we help our bodies not to develop these low grade metabolic acid problems? By supporting the organs responsible for correcting imbalances”;

“By taking one teaspoon of A. Vogel Multiforce Alkaline Powder daily, once a day, you will deliberately give these minerals in a form that is readily absorbed in the body enabling it to support its own buffering system”;

“Vitamin C in its whole form is part of the product as an antioxidant, and this protects the body against the associated damaging effects of oxidative stress”;

“In the world of Naturopathy it is understood that these minerals and vitamins support the organs to correct the pH balance of the body. Taking one dose of Multiforce daily will supply your body with 50% of your daily requirement of these alkalising minerals”.

COMPLAINT
In essence, the complainant submitted that the advertisement offers no evidence for the claims made. The claims made for the product have no scientific basis and require substantiation.

RELEVANT CLAUSE OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
The complainant identified Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code (Substantiation) as relevant.

RESPONSE
The respondent submitted that if one compares the current advertisement to the advertisement that was the subject of the ASA ruling Multiforce Alkaline Powder / S Kaye (29 September 2010), it is apparent that it has subjected its advertising to vigorous editing in view of the ruling and feedback from the experts.

It added that in various Directorate rulings much is made of the words “may / can” as used by experts, and explained that its expert has attempted to address this concern. It also pointed out that any product whether a medicine registered with the MCC, a surgical procedure, or a vitamin or supplement might not work for certain people and certain situations, thus a reference to “may / can” by an expert is as a result of ethical concerns, not because of ambivalence.

Its product has all the ingredients and indications that it should support the physiological processes responsible for maintaining alkalinity in the body. It submitted a letter from Dr P van Veldon to confirm the claims made.

Further to this, it submitted an opinion by Dr Sandi Nye relating to one of the statements used. This will be discussed further in the ruling.

ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered all the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.

Clause 4.1 of Section II requires advertisers to hold substantiation that either emanates from, or was evaluated by an independent and credible expert in the field to which the claims relate for all claims that are capable of objective substantiation.

The claims contested by the complainant are capable of such objective substantiation. The only question is whether or not the respondent has supplied satisfactory evidence in this regard.

In Multiforce Alkaline Powder / S Kaye / 15729 (29 September 2010), the Directorate ruled that the articles relied upon by the expert (Dr P van Velden) made no reference to the respondent’s product. It was pointed out that in keeping with the principle established in the decision of the Advertising Industry Tribunal (the AIT) in Lifebouy / Dettol / 14813 (27 August 2010), the Directorate was compelled to apply its mind to the evidence on which the substantiating expert bases his claims. The Directorate specifically noted that “The fact that not one of the articles relied on by Dr van Velden makes any reference to the respondent’s product casts doubt over whether or not they serve as adequate substantiation for the claims made in relation to this product”.

Furthermore, the Directorate noted that Dr van Velden did not unequivocally confirm that the claims are true for the product when used as recommended.

Turning to the matter at hand, the respondent submitted the articles it is relying on for making the claims at issue. In total, 14 articles were submitted, of which 8 were the same articles previously relied on, already rejected (on the basis that they were not product-specific), and therefore not considered again for this ruling. Only the following 6 articles had not been considered by the Directorate before:

“The role of nutrition on acid-base homeostasis”, by Vorman J, Daniel H, appearing in the European Journal of Nutrition 40: 187 – 188 (2001);

“Influence of nutrition on acid-base balance – metabolic aspects” by Remer T, appearing in the European Journal of Nutrition 40: 214 – 220 (2001);

“Urine pH is an indicator of dietary acid-base load, fruit and vegetables and meat intakes: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Norfolk population study”, by Ails A, Welch, Angela M, Sheila A, Bingham and Kay-tee Khaw, appearing in the British Journal of Nutrition 99: 1335-1343 (2008);

“Citrate and renal calculi: an update” by Pak CY, appearing in Miner Electrolyte Metabolism 20(6): 371 – 377 (1994) [it should be noted that the respondent did not submit a copy of this article, but the Directorate was able to obtain a copy of its abstract on http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7783699);

“Prevention of spinal bone loss by potassium citrate in cases of calcium urolithiasis” by Pak CY, Peterson RD, Pointdexter J, appearing in the Journal of Urology 168: 31-34 (2002)

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“Neuralization of Western diet inhibits bone resorption independently of K intake and reduces cortisol secretion in humans” by Mauer M, Riesen W, Juergen M, Hulter HN, Krapf R appearing in the American Journal of Physiology – Renal Physiology 284: F32 – F40 (2003).

The claim “A body with a constantly raised acidic level can become ill” is arguably a general medical claim, not one pertaining to the product. As such, the only requirement is that someone who can be regarded as an independent and credible expert in the field verifies the claim.

The respondent relied on Dr David Pieter van Velden in this regard. He has his MB ChB and M Prax Med, and is a part-time lecturer at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch. He has also acted as the Senior Lecturer at the Department of Family Medicine and Primary Care at the University.

The Directorate is therefore satisfied that Dr van Velden qualifies as an independent and credible expert for the purpose of verifying general, non-specialised medical claims of this nature.

With regard to this claim, Dr van Velden states “The human body functions optimally at an alkaline pH of 7.44. Homeostasis is constantly maintained by the kidneys, lungs and colon by excreting the acid load. Metabolic acidosis is a potentially lethal condition … the above statement is therefore a valid conclusion”.

In light of the above, the claim “A body with a constantly raised acidic level can become ill” appears to be adequately substantiated within the meaning of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.

The remaining claims disputed by the complainant are, however, are related to the product being promoted and its claimed efficacy. In effect, the claims imply that the product will:

“… support the organs responsible for correcting imbalances”;

Deliver the relevant “… minerals in a form that is readily absorbed in the body enabling it to support its own buffering system”;

“… protect the body against the associated damaging effects of oxidative stress” as a result of its Vitamin C component; and

“supply your body with 50% of your daily requirement of these alkalising minerals”.

The letter from Dr van Velden effectively states that these claims are true for the product when taken as recommended. He also points out (as does the advertisement) that people who consume a “Mediterranean-type diet” will likely have no need to use the product.

It is unclear from Dr van Velden’s letter which of the supporting literature he relied on for which of the claims at issue. However, the Directorate is mindful of the following comments made in the Multiforce Alkaline Powder / S Kaye / 15729 (29 September 2010) ruling:

“…the Directorate is compelled to apply its mind to the evidence on which the substantiating expert bases his claims. The fact that not one of the articles relied on by Dr van Velden makes any reference to the respondent’s product casts doubt over whether or not they serve as adequate substantiation for the claims made in relation to this product”.

None of the articles relied on by the respondent appear to relate to, refer to, or mention the respondent’s product. The Directorate was also unable to locate any of the disputed claims in these articles. As noted previously, this casts doubt over whether or not they serve as adequate substantiation.

Doctor P van Velden also fails to mention why the articles have any relevance to the respondent’s claims

The letter from Dr Sandi Nye adds little support as it does not mention or reference what research she had overviewed or whether these were in respect of the respondent’s product. In any event, she simply confirms that “In the world of Naturopathy it is known that these minerals and vitamins support the organs to correct the pH balance of the body”. Given that the complainant specifically took issue with “The claims made for the product” (and by the Directorate’s understanding NOT claims about the general perception or perspective of “the world of Naturopathy”), this verification is of little relevance.

For the above reasons, the Directorate is not satisfied that the efficacy claims at issue are substantiated within the meaning of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.

As such the advertising and claims at issue are in contravention of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.

Given the above finding:

The advertising and relevant claims must be withdrawn in its current format;

The process of withdrawing the advertising and relevant claims must be actioned with immediate effect;

The process of withdrawing the advertising and relevant claims must be completed within the deadlines stipulated by Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide, and

The advertising and relevant claims may not be used again in its current format in the future.

The complaint is upheld.

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