Over the years, a growing number of organizations, companies, and websites have found themselves being targeted by either the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) or their local Trading Standards authority, for daring to promote the health benefits of natural products on their website.
In 2014, a journalist and author, Ms. Anna Victoria Rogers, found herself a target of this ‘policing agency’ when she began advertising a range of health products on Miss Eco Glam, her website promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Anna Victoria Rogers of Miss Eco Glam.
She told GreenMedInfo that her problems began when she opened an online shop, sparking a series of complaints by the Advertising Standards Agency. She stated that:
“In 2013, I received a series of emails from the ASA, stating that it had been brought to their attention that I was making false claims about a collagen product that I was selling on my website. This led to further emails a few years later, regarding a zeolite product, found to remove heavy metals and toxins.
Each time it was the same deal and I was ordered to take down vital information, leaving only the product name, ingredients and price with a purchase link. Whereas, previously, I had written information on the health benefits and the science behind the products, so people could see what it could help them with.
Now of course, as many of us are aware, we cannot state what natural products can do - even if we quote the science and studies that the companies had used themselves.”
Ms. Rogers continued:
“Despite the fact that zeolite was used in over 300 Pub Med studies, according to the ASA, I wasn't even allowed to state this on my website and instead they asked me to prove the claims myself! I replied that surely it was up to them to get the information from the manufacturer and not me, as I was just offering the product for sale on my website. However, they insisted that I had to prove it myself!
What they were asking me to do was a huge undertaking which resulted in me closing down the shop altogether.”
Ms. Rogers concluded that the whole experience had left her feeling extremely disillusioned, and told us that:
“I'm lucky because my shop was relatively small and I didn't rely on it for my income but I know that these strict regulations can destroy small businesses because by removing so much information affects SEO and websites can lose a lot of traffic. I feel sad for the people that I can no longer help.
At the time, I also received emails from my local council who had received my information from the ASA, to basically say they were aware of the case and that if I didn't do as I was told they would make me go to court.
What goes on is quite ridiculous, government money cracking down on harmless products that do help people. But there is an agenda going on under the name of Codex Alimentarius. I think the ASA are in cahoots with other organizations, such as Sense about Science, who go after people in the natural health movement. They are a pro-GMO and pharma group. They are not pro-health and have publicly attacked many natural health experts and homeopathy.
Sure, I do know that there have been cases of things being sold on the internet that are dangerous and have harmed people, but the two products I sold (Visi Probita and Pure Body by Touchstone Essentials) have thousands of happy customers who swear by the benefits and I personally took both whilst pregnant!”
Ms. Rogers believed that many of the emails that she had received were extremely intimidating and forwarded them to GreenMedInfo, giving us permission to include their content.
One of these emails stated:
Thank you for your e-mail.
I’m sorry I missed your call last week and thank you for pointing out that my voicemail message was out of date.
Having been unable to reach you yesterday, I wanted to ensure you have a quick response to your query. Firstly, we welcome your cooperation in removing the claims from your Facebook advertising. Regarding the website, if you are prepared to make changes to your advertising with a view to resolving the complaint informally, you would need to provide a written assurance that the challenged claims, and other claims that are likely to have a similar meaning to consumers, will be removed.
To expand on that (and this also applies to advertising more generally), health claims (those that suggest or imply that a relationship exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health) cannot be used unless you can demonstrate that they are authorised on the EU Register. Appearance or other efficacy claims, including those in testimonials, must not be made unless you can support them with a high level of documentary evidence (for example, peer-reviewed controlled clinical trials). Similarly, you must hold a high level of documentary evidence to demonstrate that effects seen in ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos are genuine.
Therefore, we would be happy to discuss an informal resolution if you are prepared to provide an assurance that your advertising will be amended to remove health, appearance and other efficacy claims (including those in testimonials) as well as ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. If you are not in a position to demonstrate that the claims meet the requirements set out above, we would recommend the product is advertised on an ‘availability only’ basis (whereby no direct or implies claims are made about efficacy).
If you do not wish to change your advertising as described, or if you would otherwise prefer to defend the claims, please instead send your comments on the complaint and the evidence you hold in support of the claims. We look forward to hearing how you wish to proceed by 1 April.
While we must first tackle the complaints we have received, it might reassure you to know that CAP, our sister organisation, has a team that can provide advice on the specifics of your proposed future advertising, to help you avoid ASA investigations in future. We will provide their details once the case has been closed.
I hope this helps explain our position.
Senior Investigations Executive
Direct line 020 7492 2179
Advertising Standards Authority
Mid City Place, 71 High Holborn
London WC1V 6QT
Telephone 020 7492 2222
Follow us on twitter: @ASA_UK
Legal, decent, honest and truthful”
Another email stated:
“On 3 Apr 2014, at 09:52, Sally Ramsden <SallyR@ASA.Org.UK> wrote:
Thank you for your email.
Having reviewed your website, the changes go some way to addressing the complaint however further changes are needed in order to ensure compliance and to therefore close the file. I have outlined the additional changes that should be made below:”
The ASA continued with a long list of changes that they required Ms. Rogers to change and stated that:
“You must be in a position to support the objective claims such as those about the importance of protein and collagen with evidence and they should not appear in conjunction with any claims that state or imply efficacy.
In addition, we should make clear that while we consider you responsible only for the content of marketing material under your control, we would not encourage the use of links to other sites that are likely to include non-compliant content (i.e., those to testimonials and to ‘what health professionals say’).
If you could get back to me by 8 April to confirm that the additional changes outlined against the bullet points will be made, we ought to then be in a position to close our file.
It appeared that the ASA were only satisfied when Ms. Rogers decided to close her shop down. She explained that she felt that she could no longer cope with the stress and the continual attacks on her good name.
It is Not Only the Small Websites That Are Under Attack
Unfortunately, from the information that we have received, it appears that these aggressive techniques are being used on a growing number of online distributors advertising alternative health products.
A few months ago, Mr. Rex Garratt, the Director and UK Distributor for Acilis, the silica-rich mineral water by Spritzer, was approached by Trading Standards and asked to remove a number of proven ‘health claims’ from their website.
In a letter to GreenMedInfo, Mr. Garratt explained that whilst he believed that policing our consumer websites is necessary to keep the public safe, in doing so, Trading Standards was preventing the public from knowing crucial scientific research aimed at safeguarding long-term health.
Caption Dr. Chuah Chaw Teo, Executive Director at Spritzer, Professor Christopher Exley, from Keele University and Rex Garratt, of silicawaters.com
In a statement to GreenMedInfo, he wrote:
“Take the recent ground breaking discovery by scientists at Keele University, led by Professor Christopher Exley - a world authority on the natural connection between aluminium and silicon - who have clinically proven that a natural water, rich in the mineral silicon - called ACILIS by Spritzer from the Malaysian rainforest - has the power to naturally remove neuro-toxic aluminium from the human body.”
He explained that:
“After years of being exposed to this man made neuro-toxic metal not only in pots, pans, cans, kitchen foil and cling film; humans are also ingesting it much more insidiously as aluminium salt -widely added in food (particularly bakery), baby formula milk, medications, cosmetics and controversially – vaccinations, and even our tap water!
Such research has upset conventional medical thinking by suggesting that ingesting this neuro-toxic metal may well be a contributory factor to that neural condition reaching epidemic proportion in this modern age – namely Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other disorders associated with the brain including Parkinson’s Disease, MS - and autism.
Silicawaters.com, the UK distributors of ACILIS, have striven to work closely with Cheshire East Council Trading Standards over the past 12 months, and have so been billed over £1,000 for advice from council officials in the department to ensure reference towards the benefits of drinking ACILIS are linked only with scientific research and claims already commonly associated with silicon.”
He continued that:
“By pledging to donate 10% of UK sales of ACILIS to future research into the connection between silicon and aluminium at Keele, and being the actual water used in on-going scientific research, Trading Standards officials seem to have asserted that ACILIS is making a health claim that is unauthorised by the EU food standards agency.
And they have warned that the distributor, SilicaWaters.com will be breach of compliance if the name of Acilis appears on a new website called Silica-Rich.com dedicated as a discussion forum for people interested in debating the potential benefits of silica-rich water. Likewise, according to Trading Standards, the SilicaWaters.com website is not allowed to mention or have links with the Silica-Rich.com discussion platform either.
Even though careful not to overstate the Keele research team’s future research into their hypothesis that regularly drinking silica-rich water may well be a lifestyle precaution against the onset of possible neurological disorders, SilicaWaters.com have been told by Trading Standards that mentioning Alzheimer’s at all on their website would appear to be regarded as an unauthorised health claim.”
Mr. Garratt concluded that:
“According to Trading Standards, the very mention of ACILIS in association with Alzheimer’s would be interpreted as a health claim, despite no such assertion being made at all in their website wording associated with the Keele research work discovery.”
A shocked Mr. Garratt explained to us that not only did Trading Standards want him to remove all information linking aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, but they also insisted that he removed all of Professor Exley’s research proving that such a link existed.
They issued Mr. Garratt with an official warning which stated:
The agency then issued him with a further letter stating that:
As you can see, the ASA have also demanded that Mr. Garratt removed all links to radio shows, articles, and websites, which state that: “Acilis silica-rich mineral water may deter Alzheimer’s, autism and Parkinson’s disease.”
This would include, links to The Richie Allen Show, a link to Malaysian TV, links to several articles in mainstream newspapers, including The Brighton Argus, and The Sentinel, an article in the Caduceus Magazine, and several articles published on GreenMedInfo.
Each of the letters that Mr. Garratt received from Trading Standards, were signed:
If these letters were not outrageous enough, Trading Standards then had the audacity to issue Mr. Garratt with an invoice for £1000 for the advice that they had provided. Mr. Garratt told us that:
“Trading Standards have not responded to my appeal to them to review their decision to revoke the Primary Authority partnership with Link-us. Therefore, I feel disappointed by the way they have treated my company, and am at a loss as to how to continue our policy of due diligence in endeavouring to seek compliance with food standards regulations.
I asked Mr. Garratt how he felt about the invoice. He replied:
“Well, I have paid Cheshire East Trading Standards over £800 for advice so far, and now they have billed me another £200. As far as I can see they are using this 'partnership' where they are supposed to provide advice on one hand to obtain money from my company, and on the other are using it as an 'enforcement' measure against my company, even though we have always endeavoured to comply with all their advice.”
I asked him if he felt personally attacked and how he was proposing to move forward in the future. He replied:
“I do feel let down especially when we have adopted a responsible due diligence approach to ensure compliance. But we have no alternative but to continue checking with Trading Standards to ensure everything we do is compliant with regulations.”
More and More Professionals Are Being Attacked
The two cases that I have highlighted above are not just isolated cases, as an increasing number of professionals have reported to me that they have been targeted by these organizations. Whilst I appreciate that both agencies were put in place to protect the consumer, many of the websites being targeted have legitimate scientific proof to support their claims.
By censoring Mr. Garratt from his right to link to Professor Exley’s research and provide the public with access to crucial data, Trading Standards appears to have double standards when it comes to putting out the truth.
In a letter to Mr. Garratt, Professor Exley himself confirmed that he had carefully read all of the information provided on the silicawaters.com website and in his opinion, the website did not make a health claim. Furthermore, he reiterated the fact that the website merely referenced published, proven research that he and his team had already had peer-reviewed by fellow academics and scientists.