Posted 21 March 2018
In spite of CamCheck highlighting the false claims being made for this product, as well as the MCC statement, Wondernut continued to make false claims for this product. It is evident from the ‘comments’ section that Wondernut agents have read CamCheck postings, but continue to sell this product. That alone makes their actions disgusting.
A complaint was laid with the ASA regarding the false claims being made for this product.
The ASA have ruled against the product’s claims, including the absolute rubbish claim that the product is homeopathic!
ASA: “Given this, all the claims listed by the Complainant, in so far as they appear anywhere on the Facebook page, including but not limited to the ”about” section, are unsubstantiated at this time.”
If the company starts with a lie, how can one believe anything else they say?
WONDERNUT TM WESTERN CAPE WELLNESS / H STEINMAN / 2018-7264F
Dr Harris Steinman – Complainant
WONDERNUT (PTY) LTD -Respondent
16 March 2018
Dr Steinman lodged a consumer complaint against the Respondent’s Facebook and website advertisement promoting its Wondernut product.
The advertisement states, inter a/ia, that: “Solution to weight loss. Wondernut”
It further lists the following claims:
- May Reduces Fat, Improve body build
- May boost faster weight loss, Detoxifying
- May Maintain energy, Lower cholesterol
- May Reduces appetite, Clearer skin, 100% Natural
In essence, the Complainant submitted that the product makes a number of unproven/ unsubstantiated claims, inter a/la, that “Wondernut (homeopathic Weight loss product – not MCC tested)”. He submits that this is not a homeopathic product at all, and therefore the claim is false.
It was submitted that there is also no evidence to support the following claims (as cited in the complaint):
- May Reduces Fat,
- May Improve body build
- May support faster weight loss
- May Maintain energy levels, Lower cholesterol
- May Reduces appetite,
- May lower cholesterol
- May support IBS
- Scientifically proven
- Solution to Weight -loss
- May reduce appetite
- Clearer skin
The Complainant submitted that the MCC has issued a statement stating, amongst other, that:
”It has come to the attention of the Medicines Control Council that there is an increase in the usage of the seeds (nuts) of Aleurites moluccanus (L) Wiild, also known as Indian Walnut, Neuz de la India, Candleberry or Kemiri. . .The Medicines Control Council has not evaluated any products containing this ingredient for safety, effectiveness or quality, and has therefore not evaluated any of the evidence for their use. The Medicines Control Council is not aware of any human clinical trials evaluating the oral use of this nut for such purposes.”
The Complainant argued that the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database does not mentioned the product’s use for weight loss, but ”is used [traditionally] for asthma, bloody diarrhea, dysentery, sprue, and as a bowel stimulant”.
It is therefore clear that the Respondent is making unsubstantiated claims, and duping consumers with unsubstantiated claims, contrary to the ASA Code and regulations.
RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
In light of the complaint the following clauses of the Code were taken into account:
- Clause 2.1, Section II – Misleading claims
- Clause 4.1, Section II – Substantiation
The Respondent submitted that the webpage link provided by the Complainant does not exist.
The Respondent submitted that it changed its Facebook webpage to read “organic” instead of “homeopathic weight Loss”.
It submitted that its agents, of which it has 109 in total and 61 representatives under them, as well as its clients are evidence to support the second point made by Complainant. It has never made any claims which cannot be substantiated, and it never made claims that its product would cure any illnesses.
The Respondent further submitted that it has changed its Webpage to only read “Weight Loss Wondernut” and not “Solution to Weight Loss”.
It submitted that it is well aware of the MCC statement and therefore it is stated very clearly on its Webpage that its product is not MCC approved as they never tested a sample of its product, but in the meantime it does inform its clients that the product was not approved by the MCC; and until such time it is tested, it is informing its clients of this fact.
The reference to the Natural Medicines Database referred to by the complainant is to Aleurites Moluccanus whereas the advertised product is Aleurites Moluccanus (L) Willd. It provided a link to the Characteristic Test Results done by the USDA.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered all the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.
The Complainant submitted that the product is being advertised on Facebook at https://tinyurl.com/yaki crm. The Respondent argued that the webpage does not exist. The Directorate attempted to access the webpage in question and could not access it. Instead the webpage link reads ”Your search for https://tinvurI.com/vakj9crm did not match with any results…”.
That having been said, the Respondent did not dispute that the claims in question do indeed appear on its Facebook page. The ASA reviewed the Facebook page, and found a number of claims – including the overwhelming claim that the product results in weight loss.
The Directorate will assume that all the claims cited in the complaint are to be found on the page as this has not been disputed.
Complaints on substantiation
It is a well-established principle within the ASA that a complainant cannot simply demand substantiation, but must provide a basis to question the product.
While it appears ex facie that the Complainant referenced the wrong product in terms of his reference to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, this was not his only basis for questioning the claims. He also referenced the MCC statement which says, inter alia, ”The product is advertised and sold online as a natural weight loss solution, with extraordinary claims made about its effect in stimulating weight loss”.
The Directorate considers this sufficient motivation to trigger a complaint calling for substantiation.
The Respondent submitted a number of undertakings.
- that it has changed its Facebook webpage to read “organic” instead of “Homeopathic weight loss”.
- it has changed the webpage to read “Weight loss Wondernut” and not “Solution to Weight loss”.
The Respondent has submitted that it has changed its webpage to address the issue raised by the Complainant.
The ASA has a long standing principle which holds that where an advertiser provides an unequivocal undertaking to withdraw or amend its advertising in a manner that addresses the concerns raised, that undertaking is accepted without considering the merits of the matter.
The respondent’s undertaking to amend the advertisement in respect of the reference to ”homeopathic” appears to address the complainant’s concerns in this one respect.
Accordingly, that undertaking is accepted on condition that the claim in its original and complained of format is not used again in future.
The Directorate does not believe that the change from “Solution to Weight Loss” to “Weight Loss Wondernut” addresses the core issue which is that the product claims weight loss efficacy. This undertaking is therefore not accepted.
Merits on remaining claims
Clause 4.1 of Section II states, inlet alia, that an advertiser must hold documentary evidence to support all claims that are capable of objective substantiation. In addition, it clarifies that such documentary evidence shall emanate from or be evaluated by an independent and credible expert in the particular field to which the claims relate. The verification provided needs to specifically verify the exact claims used for the product as a whole. In the case of survey-type data, the claims have to be verified by a SAMRA accredited entity.
Clause 4.2.1 of Section II of the Code states, ”Advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation which, directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity, inaccuracy, exaggerated claim or otherwise, is likely to mislead the consumer”.
Because the ASA is not a technical expert body, Clause 4.1 of Section II requires it to rely on the opinion from an “independent, credible expert” Should the Directorate be satisfied that the relevant person or entity is indeed independent, credible and an expert in the field to which the claims relate, the Directorate will consider whether or not the expert confirms the claims in question as valid for the product as a whole.
The Respondent has not submitted any substantiation for any of its claims. In respect of weight loss, it has said that its agents and customers are evidence in themselves. The Directorate notes that there is nothing before them from an independent, credible expert to show that:
- These people exist;
- These people lost weight;
- That weight loss is attributable to the efficacy of the product.
The Respondent also referenced a link to the USDA website. While the link was wrong, the Directorate sourced the correct page itself. The relevant ”Characteristic Test Results” are simply the scientific definition of the product, a picture of same, and a reflection of where it is found in the US. There are no efficacy references.
This therefore cannot act as substantiation for the claims.
Given this, all the claims listed by the Complainant, in so far as they appear anywhere on the Facebook page, including but not limited to the ”about” section, are unsubstantiated at this time.
The material is therefore in breach of Clause 4.1 and 4.2.1 of Section II.
The Respondent is required to:
- Withdraw the claims in their current format;
- The process of withdrawing must be actioned with immediate effect;
- The process of withdrawing must be completed within the deadlines stipulated in Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide; and
- The claims may not be used again in the future.
The complaint is upheld.
The Respondent’s attention is drawn to Clause 4.1.7 of Section II and Clause 15.5 of the Procedural Guide.