The ALCAT has made a number of claims in adverts, including: “A tremendous number of health problems have been linked to food intolerances – these may be common everyday problems like: migraines and chronic headaches aching joints or frank arthritis gastrointestinal disorders (including IBS, Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis) chronic or unexplained fatigue eczema and chronic skin disorders hyperactivity or other varieties of ADD obesity and unexplained weight gain asthma”.
COMPLAINT The complainant submitted that the advertisements mislead consumers by making unsubstantiated claims with regard to product as there are no credible, scientific or peer-reviewed studies that support the respondent’s claims.
RULING: “Given the absence of any independent, credible verification, there is nothing before the Directorate to unequivocally verify that that product is capable of achieving the claimed results.”
|Alcat Test / HA Steinman / 14227|
|Ruling of the : ASA Directorate|
|In the matter between:|
|Dr Harris Steinman||Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)|
|Alkirar 148 (pty) Ltd t/a Alcat South Africa||Respondent|
09 Nov 2009
Dr Steinman lodged a consumer complaint against two Alcat pamphlets promoting the Alcat Food Sensitivity Blood Test as well as its Internet advertising. The pamphlets were displayed at the Alfredo Restaurant, Kloof Street, Cape Town and the Internet advertisement was published at www.alacatsa.co.za. Pamphlets First pamphlet contains, inter alia, the wording “The ALCAT Test” and “THE blood test for food allergies” Second pamphlet contains, inter alia, the wording: “Did you know ’normal’ or ‘healthy’ food can make you SICK or FAT? WHY? Your body’s reaction to foods and chemicals may cause headaches, migraines, arthritis, skin rashes, gut problems, weight gain and many other common symptoms. Call ALCAT South Africa”
The advertisement contains, inter alia, the wording: “A tremendous number of health problems have been linked to food intolerances – these may be common everyday problems like: migraines and chronic headaches aching joints or frank arthritis gastrointestinal disorders (including IBS, Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis) chronic or unexplained fatigue eczema and chronic skin disorders hyperactivity or other varieties of ADD obesity and unexplained weight gain asthma”.
The complainant submitted that the advertisements mislead consumers by making unsubstantiated claims with regard to product as there are no credible, scientific or peer-reviewed studies that support the respondent’s claims. The complainant also indicated that it has information that the respondent intends flighting its radio commercial on Radio 702 and therefore requires an AD Alert.
RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
In light of the complaint the following clauses of the Code were taken into account:
• Clause 4.1 of Section II – Substantiation
• Clause 4.2.1 of Section II – Misleading claims
The respondent addressed the merits of the matter and also submitted supporting documentation.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.
The complainant indicated that it has information that the respondent intends flighting its radio commercial on Radio 702 and therefore requires an AD Alert. Clause 15 of the Procedural Guide states, inter alia, that once a ruling has been given by the Directorate or ASA Committees, it shall be the responsibility of the complainant to monitor whether or not the ruling is adhered to and carried into effect. Should the respondent ignore a reasonable request for co-operation, the ASA will issue an Ad Alert to its members (including newspapers, magazines, radio, television and the Printing Industries Federation). The Directorate, however notes that there has been no adverse ruling issued against the material that is a subject matter to this complaint. There is therefore no indication that there is a need for an Ad-Alert, at this stage. Specific attention is drawn, however, to the provisions of Clause 15.5 of the Procedural Guide, which would automatically apply in the event of an adverse ruling.
Clause 4.1 of Section II states, inter alia, that advertisers shall hold documentary evidence to support all claims that are capable of objective substantiation. Clause 4.1.4 of Section II is specific regarding claims which are capable of substantiation. It states that documentary evidence, other than survey data, shall emanate from or be evaluated by a person or entity which is independent, credible, and an expert in the particular field to which the claims relate.
The Directorate is not a technical or scientific body, and as such cannot interpret the information submitted to determine whether or not it sufficiently verifies the sweeping statements made. In terms of the Code, the respondent should submit substantiation that complies with the requirements stipulated in Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code. In short, what the Directorate requires is verification from an independent and credible expert in this field to confirm that the respondent’s product, or test, will deliver the claimed results. The advertisements complained of create the distinct impression that the respondent’s product has an ability to pinpoint food allergies through blood tests. Such claims are clearly capable of objective proof in the manner envisaged by Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.
The respondent submitted a letter from a Mr Kevin Garrity, its Chief Operating Officer in the United States of America, which referred to several studies. In addition, it submitted, inter alia, two documents that appear to be studies published in journals, titled:
- “The effect of the ALCAT Test Diet Therapy for Food Sensitivity in Patients With Obesity” by Mohammed Akmal, Saeed Ahmed Khan and Abdul Qayyum Khan. This article appears to have been placed in the Middle East Journal of Family Medicine, volume 7, issue 13 during April 2009. and
- “The Short Term Efficacy of the ALCAT Test of Food Sensitivities to Facilitate Changes in Body Composition and Self-reported Disease Symptoms: A Randomized Controlled Study” by Gilbert R Kaats, Dennis Pullin and Larry K Parker. This article appears to have been published in The Bariatrician in the spring of 1996
In addition, a document titled “ALCAT – A New Cellular Test for Food Sensitivity” composed by Drs PJ Fell, J Brostoff and S Soulsby was submitted. This document appears to be a paper that was presented by the authors at the Annual Meeting of the American in vitro Allergy and Immunology Society during August 1990.
Firstly, it is noted that the respondent (by way of a letter from the Chief Operating Officer) cannot simply refer to studies without at least submitting them, or preferably having the veracity of these studies and its relation to the respondent’s product verified by an independent and credible expert as required in terms of the Code. The numerous studies referred to by Mr Garrity therefore serve no purpose at this time. Secondly, whilst the actual articles submitted appear to be product relevant studies, the respondent has not put anything before the Directorate as proof that the entities or individuals who conducted these studies qualify as independent and credible experts in the field to which the claims relate as per the requirements of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.
With the exception of the article appearing in April 2009, the Directorate further notes that the other studies were done more than a decade ago, and there is nothing before the Directorate to show that these results are still “current” as required by Clause 4.1.2 of Section II. The Directorate is therefore unable to accept the studies as proof regarding the efficacy of the product in question. Given the absence of any independent, credible verification, there is nothing before the Directorate to unequivocally verify that that product is capable of achieving the claimed results. Accordingly, all claims, direct or indirect, implying to the ALCAT test’s ability to pinpoint food allergies that give rise to the host of conditions listed are currently unsubstantiated and in breach of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code. In light of the above finding, the respondent is required to:
- withdraw all claims, direct or indirect, implying to the ALCAT test’s ability to pinpoint food allergies in their current format;
- the process to withdraw the claims must be actioned with immediate effect on receipt of the ruling;
- the withdrawal of the claims must be completed within the deadlines stipulated by Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide; and
- the claims may not be used again in their current format in future until new substantiation is submitted, evaluated and a new ruling issued in terms of Clause 4.1.7 of Section II of the Code.
In light of the above, it is not necessary to consider Clause 4.2.1 of Section II in relation to these claims at this time. However, in the event of an appeal or the receipt of new substantiation, this clause may become material again. The Directorate specifically draws the respondent’s attention to Clause 15.5 of the Procedural Guide, which effectively requires it to withdraw all advertising making such claims from all media in which they appear. In addition, the Directorate notes that conditions such as “Migraines”, “Arthritis”, and “Asthma” are listed in Appendix F of the Code.
Effectively, this means that, unless the respondent’s references to these diseases accord with full product registration and approval with the Medicines Control Council, such claims are not permitted. Should the Directorate receive a complaint alleging a breach of Appendix F, it may result in an adverse ruling against the respondent. The complaint is upheld.