Posted 07 May 2014
A consumer complaint was laid with the ASA against the advertising claims for ImuPro: ” In essence the complainant submitted that the study relied on in support of this claim is inadequate. Recent publications and position statements by, inter alia, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology and the European Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology have effectively found that the IgG method is unreliable and cannot be recommended. Given this, consumers are misled into believing that the Atkinson study amounts to conclusive proof of efficacy for the respondent’s test, which is not the case.”
The ASA felt that they were “not in a position to determine whether the respondent’s interpretation of the Atkinson study is valid or not.”
14 Apr 2014
Dr Steinmman lodged a consumer against the respondent’s internet advertising promoting its Imupro genetics test. The advertisement was published at http://www.wellpro.co.za/tests-imupro/.
The advertisement contains, inter alia, the wording “Data suggests that eliminating foods that are identified to have an IgG antibody response results in significant improvement in a variety of conditions like migraine (1) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (2) Crohns disease (3) and juvenile obesity (4)”.
The website also has a “Scientific Literature” page, which lists, inter alia, the following document:
“Atkinson W, Sheldon TA, Shaath N, Whorewall PJ. Food elimination based on IgG antibodies in irritiable bowel syndrome: a randomised controlled trial. (2004) Gut; 53: 1459-1464”.
In essence the complainant submitted that the study relied on in support of this claim is inadequate. Recent publications and position statements by, inter alia, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology and the European Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology have effectively found that the IgG method is unreliable and cannot be recommended.
Given this, consumers are misled into believing that the Atkinson study amounts to conclusive proof of efficacy for the respondent’s test, which is not the case.
RELEVANT CLAUSE OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
The complainant identified Clause 4.1 of Section II (Substantiation) of the Code as relevant to this dispute.
The respondent submitted, inter alia, that there have been more recent studies since Atkinson et al (2004) that support lgG based food elimination diets to alleviate IBS and other related symptoms. These studies were referenced and elaborated on to some degree by the respondent. It added that there is confusion between total lgG (ImuPro) and IgG4 specific testing, and that these two types of tests are markedly different.
Similarly, the publication by Philpott et al (2013), referenced by the complainant was not a study conducted to prove / disprove the findings of the paper by Atkinson et al (2004), but rather an analytical assessment thereof.
The respondent acknowledged that there are unanswered questions with food lgG (Imupro) testing. This is pertinently stated on its website (www.wellpro.co.za) together with the emerging research and positive anecdotal reports from many clients who have used the test.
It assured the Directorate that the website is updated as new and relevant research is published.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.
At the outset, it should be noted that this is a peculiar complaint, in that it relates solely to a specific sentence appearing on the respondent’s website. The Directorate is aware that there have been other disputes about the efficacy of this particular test in general (refer rulings under the reference Imupro / HA Steinman / 14955 as well as the ruling referenced Health Inc Imupro / HA Steinman / 20493 (19 March 2013) for examples).
The current matter, however, does not appear to relate to the efficacy of the test in general, but rather to the respondent’s interpretation of research relied on.
In Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid / Ajax Dishwashing Liquid / 14034 (27 November 2009), the Advertising Industry Tribunal (the AIT) held, inter alia, that:
“… the function of the Directorate (and indeed all the other ASA bodies) when adjudicating complaints, is to consider and rule on complaints brought to its attention by complainants (Clause 8.1 and 2 of the Procedural Guide). This is an adjudicative function and in doing so the Directorate is required to act as a neutral and independent arbiter. Its task is not to formulate complaints or to expand on or refashion complaints brought to its attention. It is limited to a consideration of the complaint as framed and articulated by the complainant”.
In keeping with the principles set out in the ruling above, the Directorate cannot widen the scope of the complaint or consider issues beyond those raised by the complainant. The Directorate is therefore only empowered to consider whether or not the respondent has adequate “proof” for its statement that the Atkinson study suggests that eliminating foods that are identified to have an IgG antibody response results in significant improvement in the manner mentioned.
The Directorate notes that both parties are in accord with regard to the findings of the paper by Atkinson et al (2004). The complainant, however, seeks to direct the ASA to act as an arbitrator, expecting the ASA to interpret the Atkinson study and come to a different conclusion.
The Directorate is unable to do this. The role of the Directorate is to scrutinise documentary evidence to ensure that it is in accord to the claims made in an advertisement, and not to compare different research studies submitted by parties in order to determine which research study is the most acceptable. It appears ex facie that the respondent is citing the Atkinson et al (2004) correctly in its advertisement. Any objections insofar as the validity of the study is concerned do not fall under the auspices of the ASA.
In light of the above, the Directorate is not in a position to determine whether the respondent’s interpretation of the Atkinson study is valid or not.
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