Posted 6 March 2010
A letter written by Dr John Pridgeon, dated February 18th, 2010, was circulated to his email list of clients and placed on the ALCAT South Africa website (www.alcatsa.co.za), where a number of allegations were made regarding the circumstances surrounding the closure of ALCAT South Africa. In the event that this letter was removed from the ALCAT SA website, it is reproduced exactly unedited here. My response can be viewed here.
Open letter explaining ALCAT South
Africa’s current circumstances
It is with great sadness, and a sense of deep injustice that I must inform the reader of my forced closure of ALCAT South Africa. The demand placed upon my time and personal financial resources has simply become unsustainable. This is not a decision I have made lightly, or without great reluctance. This effectively means that ALCAT will now be lost to South Africa, at least in the short term. It may well be that once the problem person I mention below is shown to be working for the blood allergy test “opposition”, ALCAT SA may then be revived, and South Africa can continue to enjoy the benefits of this test. It is my personal opinion that ALCAT remains the best food and chemical delayed allergy / intolerance test on the market today, and it is for exactly this reason that the other blood allergy manufacturers are working so hard to shut it down. The blood allergy test market is obviously a very lucrative one, as allergies are indeed a very common problem.
The ALCAT Worldwide CEO has decided that South Africa is too far away to manage effectively from the US, and has agreed telephonically that I should close ALCAT’s offices here, with immediate effect. Any ALCAT queries in the future may be directed to the Principal Company, Cell Science Systems, situated in Deerfield Beach, Florida, in the USA. Go to www.alcat.com for their contact details.
ALCAT SA has been running at a loss in South Africa for over 3 years now, for no other reason than one man’s continued war on ALCAT. ALCAT is thriving elsewhere in the world, and last year the manufacturing facility in the US had to be upgraded to cope with the growing global demand. I kept hoping that our efforts would at some stage turn the tide, but this has not been the case.
Every single anti – ALCAT problem since March 2007 can quite easily be traced back to the efforts of this one man, Dr Harris Steinman, who is the Director of Food & Allergy Consulting & Testing Services, based in Cape Town.
The indisputable connection to this person in each and every instance will be briefly chronicled below, by way of explanation. Steinman turns out to be an arrogant, uncouth (he called me a liar twice to my face during the last ASASA hearing, something I was too stunned to react to at the time), and persistent man with extraordinary connections after his 20 odd years in the South African and global allergy arena. Connections he has cunningly used to muddy the waters and create the confusion and uncertainty necessary to deflect attention from himself as ALCAT’s only real detractor in this country, while mounting his intensive multi – directional assault. I submit that there would not be one single complaint about ALCAT if this man were silenced.
Steinman, as you will see, is on a mission, for which I believe he is being handsomely paid. Until this can be proven, this IS purely supposition, but there can surely be no other reason for his extremely strenuous and time consuming anti – ALCAT activities. I have recently heard that he is now going after other intolerance testing businesses in SA, after which (if he succeeds in stopping them from trading profitably) all competition to the blood allergy testing companies he represents will be effectively removed. Job done. Maybe there is a bonus for this…
My sense of belief in the various organisations and institutions that I have approached in my forced defence of ALCAT has been shattered, as it seems Steinman’s many and varied efforts appear to be well within their boundaries of accepted ethical medical and business practice. As you will read below, not a single entity has offered any meaningful assistance. Surely it should not be permitted for any person or business entity to completely hoodwink or buy the authorities so completely?
I appeal to all reading this to share with me any information they might have regarding Steinman’s connection with the “other” blood allergy testing companies, namely Pharmacia Diagnostics, Laboratory Specialities and Phadia (these all turn out to be pretty much in cahoots, and could well be one and the same). These companies literally “own” allergy testing in this country, and elsewhere in the world. I have never been able to conclusively prove that Steinman has gained financially or otherwise from his efforts to destroy ALCAT SA, because I have no legal means of gaining access to his financial affairs. I strongly suspect Steinman’s collaboration with people working within one or more of the entities mentioned below. There can be no other explanation for them to consistently look the other way and / or disregard the indisputable information supplied by ALCAT SA that should easily have substantiated ALCAT’s advertisement claims.
Additionally, I do not for one second accept that Steinman’s simple verbal declaration to the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa ASASA that he does not earn “one cent” from his efforts as a “concerned consumer activist” can possibly be sufficient or acceptable evidence that he is not a “competitor” in the allergy arena.
Steinman was found to be a competitor by ASASA in early 2009 after my request / suggestion that he be regarded as such was upheld. Amazingly, this was reversed later last year.
That his simple and unsubstantiated verbal denial of any profiteering was accepted by ASASA as proof of his non involvement in the allergy arena is simply disingenuous, and astonishing. This is hardly something one would expect from an organisation with such power, whose decisions have such serious consequences as to hamper and finally destroy a perfectly legitimate and uniquely useful business, such as ALCAT.
Steinman has openly admitted to developing the Phadia allergy website he maintains. Apparently he must (his words taped by the ASASA at his last appeal) “review over 400 allergy articles from 40 different journals on a monthly basis” to do this competently. How many hours a month does that take? IF he was able to adequately read, study and digest as many as ten allergy articles an hour (that is one every 6 minutes!) then, conservatively speaking, he would spend a minimum of forty hours A MONTH performing this task. This is, by any standards, a full week’s work! Do you the reader believe that he does not get “one cent” (his words) for his efforts? Well ASASA does! While ALCAT must laboriously provide absolutely concrete substantiation for every advertising claim made (which substantiation has anyway been totally ignored), Steinman it seems is exempt from this requirement, as a simple verbal assurance was sufficient for them to reverse their finding that he was a “competitor”.
The long list of Steinman’s efforts to shut ALCAT down are listed below. I think at the end of it you will understand why I cannot concur with ASASA that these efforts have not been paid for. The time he has spent orchestrating all of this must have been massive. Basically, he is successfully using ASASA and others to preserve what is in essence a blood allergy testing monopoly in South Africa, currently held by the people he works for. But the Competitions Commission does not agree…
ASASA have been by far and away Steinman’s most used tool. This most necessary institution (to protect the Public from unscrupulous advertisers) has been cunningly manipulated by a man who has used, and continues to use, his extensive knowledge of its most intimate processes with great skill. I believe it is very possible that he has help from a person or persons (as yet unknown) within this entity, AND he is on first name terms with several people that work inside that building. It would not be the first time people within ASASA have been found to help a complainant in this way. This first-name-terms relationship between Steinman and ASASA staff is very cosy, and most disconcerting for anyone trying to protect themselves from Steinman’s (occasionally ridiculous) complaints (that are then upheld!). This can surely be the only explanation for his overwhelming dominance of these exchanges.
To date ALCAT SA’s many requests to know how the material ALCAT has supplied as substantiation for its advertisements has been judged, have been met with total silence. Do you the reader understand how confusing it is to have your evidence completely disregarded without any explanation, when there have been BOOKS written by several prominent authors stating the same thing as you have, that are ignored as your substantiation?
I think the reader will agree that the material ALCAT supplied as substantiation would have been fairly technical, and as such would have required a technically well informed person to assess it – an allergy expert, in other words. In this country, the only people who could have adequately performed this task would have to have been either Steinman himself (who is obviously the complainant, so it surely could not have been him) or someone affiliated to ALLSA (The Allergy Society of South Africa), who are also known to be outspoken critics of ALCAT. This open criticism is something that I strongly suspect is linked to the fact that they are financially supported by the other “players” in the blood allergy testing arena, and actually advertise and recommend the use of their products on their website. Any conclusion, decision and subsequent action of ASASA would be fundamentally flawed, if my suppositions are correct. But it seems I will never know.
It may be puzzling to any observer why I did not dispute the reversal of the March 2009 decision by ASASA. I did, but ASASA quickly let me know that the non refundable cost for me to appeal this reversal would be R42,000! Which in turn makes the fact that Steinman was able to appeal the earlier ASASA finding (as an adjudged “competitor”) for free more than a little unfair. I did question this at the time the appeal was heard, and I am still waiting for an answer. Again, double standards seem to prevail, without any accountability to ALCAT… more reason to believe that Steinman has help on the inside.
The Competitions Commission of South Africa decided that they “will not refer any part of the complaint by ALCAT South Africa to the Competition Tribunal”.
The Ethics Committee of South Africa’ answer to my appeal: “Prof Landman has reviewed all the documentation provided. He is of the opinion that the Institute is not in a position to assist in any way as this is a matter between you and Dr Steinman. He did, however, advise that you approach the Health Professions Council of SA as this would be your official avenue for complaints against another health professional.”
The HPCSA (The Health Professions Council of South Africa) replied to my complaint against Steinman: “Please be advised that the best way to solve this matter would be to institute a civil claim against the practitioner, for sabotaging ALCAT”.
ALLSA (The Allergy Society of South Africa) are openly funded by ALCAT’s opposition allergy blood test marketers LabSpec. LabSpec it seems, represent Phadia or Pharmacia diagnostics, or both of these commercial entities. Additionally ALLSA openly support the use of their products on their website, while denigrating ALCAT in a dubious “position statement”. Free market indeed! Steinman has at varying levels represented ALLSA for years. Again all very cosy stuff …. the reader will appreciate why I believe that neither Steinman, nor anyone from ALLSA could be fairly used in the ASASA arbitration of the complaints against ALCAT.
SAMJ (The South African Medical Journal) published a very uncomplimentary letter by the chairperson of ALLSA Dr Sharon Kling. The editors of this magazine, Professor JP van Niekerk and editor Dr Dan Ncayiyana declined to publish my rebuttal, saying simply they believed the article to be “unsuitable”. Is it not every editor’s duty to present both sides of any debate? I do not read the SAMJ any more. It was a sad day when I realised even the most hallowed institution, like SA’s premier medical journal, was not exempt from promoting unfair and one sided representation.
UPDATE – this is a monthly journal pointed at GPs. Dr Joan Lewis is their editor, and was the writer of their libellous March 2008 editorial, which compared ALCAT to the infamous Kubus Kwekery. Dr Lewis did not call me at any time to substantiate her work, Steinman had obviously supplied everything she felt she needed for her slanderous writing. I hope she researches other topics she writes about better, or nothing she writes is then worth reading. The publisher,a Ms Phillipou, apologised telephonically to me, admitting she would not have printed this editorial had she seen it prior to publication. Dr Lewis was in Steinman’s medical class at UCT, as Lewis mentioned when she gave nauseating adulation to his achievements in a later UPDATE editorial. Steinman denied that he even knows her, one of several lies he has been caught in.
YOU Pulse – a very libellous article appeared in the Spring 2008 edition of this publication. Steinman was listed on their editorial page as their “allergy expert”, and I am sure the writer Lisa-Marie Tancred will agree that she consulted freely with Steinman before and during the writing of this article, ignoring information I supplied not knowing about the imminent ambush, and indeed obtained the inspiration for this article from the “allergy expert” himself.
ADSA – Steinman is an Honorary Member of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, and no doubt instigated the mention of the ASASA decision in their December 2009 newsletter.
Health 24 – their “Diet Doc”, a Dr I V van Heerden took the liberty of building upon the opportunity provided by ADSA’s December newsletter to produce an article that incorporated her libellous opinion of ALCAT. She too did not so much as pick up a phone to call me (the cowardly modus operandi when you want to diss anything, it seems) before putting this article on display on the Health 24 website. Another well known tactic used by Steinman’s cronies – her connection to Steinman remains as yet unknown, but no doubt this will become obvious in time. Even the internet has limited potential to uncover interrelationships. It is notable that Steinman always seems to get women to do his dirty work.
Wikipedia – this one startled even me – Steinman went ballistic here when he or his lackeys edited the ALCAT article something like 108 times in a period of a few days (every time I or my American Principal’s staff tried to put forward the correct information this was immediately changed by the alias using heroes – we eventually gave up in the face of this frenzied assault). The activity was so furious it attracted the attention of the managers of this website. The writer/s were using the aliases Leadsongdog and Orangemarlin to disguise their true identity. The content was easily recognisable as originating from Steinman being identical to, and copied verbatim from, earlier ASASA complaints submitted by Steinman. No one who behaves like this, is not desperately protecting something very valuable, in my opinion.
Noseweek – the May 2009 article “Grabbing the Bull by the Horns” was investigative journalism at its worst. At my repeated request, one of their senior journalists, Mr Jack Lundin, eventually came to see me, and dutifully took down my story. After months of enquiry as to how the story was coming along, I gave up asking. In the interim it seems that Lundin got Steinman’s side of this story, and ended up using this opportunity to generate a story praising Steinman as a consumer champion. Noseweek also published without giving me the opportunity for rebuttal. Most of the article that dealt with ALCAT focussed upon an irrelevant email conversation I had with my lawyer, obviously inadvertently passed on to Lundin by me. The article should have been entitled “Grabbing the Bull by the Udders”. Shoddy stuff Noseweek, and one day you may learn that selling sensationalism instead of the truth will not endear you to anyone seeking a publication with journalistic integrity.
The suggestion that I take these people to civil court was one made by people who do not understand that this process means (apart from the massive inconvenience) supplying your legal team with between R500,000 and R700,000 for their efforts. This was the figure my lawyer quoted me after I enquired about suing Dr Joan Lewis and UPDATE for their inflammatory article, and was probably an underestimate. And getting a clean and just judgement is by no means certain in any court, especially when you are taking on unseen but huge money. The reader will agree that the annals of history are full of examples where legal cases were won, not by the facts of the case, but by the money the winning party was prepared, or able, to spend. Steinman’s principals have huge money, another reason why it is very difficult to believe he is not on their payroll.
Steinman’s big lie, one that he will never be able to weasel out of, derives from the “supportive” early evidence that ALCAT is of no clinical use. Steinman co – authored four articles between 1992 and 1994 where ALCAT was thoroughly discredited, and its efficacy negated. When I asked Steinman for the data that was used to publish these articles, he replied that this had long ago been discarded. Steinman claimed telephonically (I have the recording) that TWO HUNDRED people were tested in this “trial” – ALCAT in the US (the only maker of the test and the only supplier of the machines used to perform the test) have no knowledge of this trial whatsoever.
In February 1995, the following year, Steinman wrote and signed a letter (attached find a copy) openly praising ALCAT, and stating that only 2 of the trial participants had actually been subjected to the dietary restrictions ALCAT recommends as part of its process, and both had done well as a result. The “trials” conducted by Steinman & Co were obviously bogus and non existent. The only ALCAT study actually conducted in Cape Town was to determine the reproducibility of ALCAT, which Steinman himself found to be a creditable 94.94%! ALCAT in the US does have a record of this trial.
To ALCAT’s supporters over the years, I give my heartfelt thanks – I am glad we were able to help you to heal your patients, and often this was after all previous other attempts had failed. I am sorry I could not stop ALCAT’s demise in this country, but perhaps you all now appreciate it was not for lack of trying. Please would you all remove all flyers, business cards, and any form of advertising for ALCAT from your premises, as its content may be in breach of the recent ASASA ruling.
To ALCAT’s detractors, in my opinion you are either naïve or you have been paid for your efforts, and I hope one day that you either wake up and smell the coffee, or that your conscience or the wheels of justice catches up with you, and bites you hard.
I say it again – if anyone reading this has any information that I can use to prove my suspicions, then please share it with me, even anonymously, so that I can take the appropriate action. South Africa has lost a very useful clinical device, and now many people will continue to have a quality of life that is way less than it should be.
I take this opportunity to thank my staff: Marcus, Charmaine and Sister Liz for their unswerving loyalty, their continued belief, dedication and hard work, and to apologise for the loss of their jobs as a result of ALCAT’s closure.
Dr John Pridgeon
February 18th, 2010