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MedicalBrief: Fat Blocker moves to silence fact checker

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Posted 29 March 2015

Reproduced from Medical Brief

MedicalBrief: Focus
Fat Blocker moves to silence fact checker

Published: 23 March 2015

“MedicalBrief is Africa’s authoritative weekly digest of medical matters, both on the continent and around the world. It brings you a succinct summary of the latest developments, both in news and research, with links to the original material.”


Dr Harris Steinman, a medical doctor and consumer activist who runs a South African website exposing misleading claims about health products, has been forced to move his site offshore after sports supplement company USN demanded his internet service provider (ISP) take down his site because it was ‘unlawful’. Steinman has long been a thorn in the flesh of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) manufacturers because of his success in using the Advertising Standards Authority to remove or change misleading advertising and in this instance his criticisms relate to a USN product called ‘Fat Blocker’.

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IT specialist Kevin Charleston says that this is the latest tactic by CAM manufacturers to silence critics. They also were using intimidatory and expensive suits (so called SLAPP suits) to intimidate.

It is previously reported by West Cape News that in 2013 USN fell foul of tests conducted by D Steinman, which showed that one of their products, USN 100% Whey Protein, did not contain the protein percentage claimed. Discovery Health Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town, Tim Noakes, said the difference in protein amount — 17% — would not have notable effect for athletes.
This, said Noakes, was because the product is “not working anyway”, the 17 percent difference was “17 percent of nothing”.

GroundUp reports that Steinman has lodged numerous complaints about medicine advertisements with the Advertising Standards Authority, most of which have been upheld. Steinman wrote the first post regarding USN, after complaints about a USN product called “Fat Blocker”.

Until last Friday CAMcheck was hosted on Hetzner, one of the largest internet hosting companies in the country. But on 10 March Hetzner told Steinman that if he did not change content critical of sports supplement company USN within five days, his site would be taken down.

USN had lodged a take-down notice request with the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), of which Hetzner is a member. Anyone who considers material on a website to be unlawful can request the ISP to take it down.

USN referred to three posts in its request, in which Steinman accuses USN of selling products under false pretences with no factual evidence to support its claims, and calls USN CEO Albe Geldenhuys a “liar” and “a scam artist.”

Steinman wrote the first post after complaints about a USN product called “Fat Blocker”.

Following a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority(ASA) that Steinman placed on his website. Steinman says that USN later changed the product name. He wrote a new post saying the new product had the same ingredients as *Fat Blocker. “I wrote the blog about how angry I was that Geldenhuys made a massive empire on products with no evidence to back it up.”

A year later, according to Steinman, a cycling website picked up his first post and it went viral.
“This is why I think USN then had to react,” Steinman said.

In a press statement on 23 January this year, Geldenhuys rejected Steinman’s claims, calling them “unsubstantiated and defamatory.” He said USN products were regularly tested.

Steinman responded to USN’s press statement with a third post where he referred to Geldenhuys as a “scam artist”, among other things.

In response to questions sent by GroundUp, USN national marketing coordinator Gareth Powell said the articles written on CAMcheck were a threat to the integrity of the brand and to that of Geldenhuys as an individual. “The article in question went viral on social media. This meant that the article was being viewed by many of our existing and potential customers. As such, the decision was made to take action. However, our concern was never regarding the possibility of an impact on sales, but rather the insufficient and un-factual information contained in the article, which sought to discredit the USN brand and our CEO, Albe Geldenhuys, in his personal capacity,” he said.

Powell said USN was still considering legal action. “The take down notice issued by USN to the author is not an attack on freedom of speech. In this case, the personal opinions of the author need to be separated from the facts,” he said. Powell added that USN would respond to the allegations made by Steinman “at an appropriate time”.

Hetzner Communications Manager Athena Turner said the company was legally obliged to act on all take-down notice requests. “Once we receive a take-down notice request from ISPA, Hetzner checks whether the request is valid by checking that the content referred to in the notification does appear on the website and that the website is hosted on our network.

In another article, investigatory magazine Noseweek highlights ‘the persistent efforts of medical doctor and researcher Harris Steinman to make sure that the weak and vulnerable aren’t taken for a ride by snake oil salesmen’.

‘Steinman concluded a long time ago that, because of the weak regulatory system in the area of complementary and alternative medicines (“CAMs”), his best bet was the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)…. The ASA Code of Practice says that an advertiser must be honest, and must not make claims that are misleading. It also says that if an advertisement makes claims that are objectively verifiable, the advertiser must be in possession of documentary evidence that supports those claims, and that documentation must come from someone who is “independent, credible and an expert in the particular field”. Steinman lodges a lot of ASA objections and his win-rate is pretty good. ‘

Full GroundUp article on USN move against Steinman
Steinman’s posting on USN
Full GroundUp article on ‘A stealthy attempt at censorship’
Noseweek article (Subscription may be required)

[note note_color="#f6fdde" radius="4"]CamCheck posts related to USN
(Link opens in new browser window)

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