Supplement Firms Are Informants for the ASA

March 1, 2010 at 8:38 pm (Nutritionism, Supplements) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When they’re not running trials initiatives, or being being slapped down by the Advertising Standards Authority, some firms like to while away the hours making complaints to the ASA about their competitors.

Equazen complained to the ASA about an ad for St Ivel milk that claimed their milk was ‘clever’, and used this claim: “Experts in children’s development believe more Omega 3 may enhance a child’s concentration and learning”; and this one: “Recent scientific studies suggest Omega 3 may play an important role enhancing learning and concentration in some children”.

The ASA considered that: “The ads breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 and 3.2 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness), 50.1 (Health & beauty products and therapies – general), 50.20 and 50.21 (Health & beauty products and therapies – vitamins, minerals and other food supplements).”

Having successfully complained to the ASA about the St Ivel product, Equazen then found themselves the subject of a similar complaint. This complaint, too, was successful:

the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness), 50.1 (Health and beauty products and therapies – general) and 50.21 (Health and beauty products and therapies – vitamins, minerals and other food supplements) […] CAP Code clause 50.3 (Health and beauty products and therapies – general) and 50.21 (Health and beauty products and therapies – vitamins, minerals and other food supplements).

This shows not only that health supplement manufacturers sometimes have trouble ensuring their adverts comply with some of the requirements of the advertising code – that claims be truthful and substantiated – but also that the industry is as competitive and businesslike as any other. A point I have made before.

I also have a more recent example. The ASA recently ruled that no fewer than eight complaints about a Healthspan advert were valid – the advert was deemed to have breached ten clauses of the CAP code.

Although six of the points challenged were actually raised by the ASA themselves, the initial complaint came from Holland and Barrett Retail Ltd (“the UK’s leading retailer of vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements”).


Further examples of Alt Med industries submitting complaints about competitors are welcome – please feel free to post links to adjudications in the comments section below. It would be interesting to see how widespread this phenomenon is.

One further thing: I am aware that some businesses use, for example, the MHRA as a tool against competitors and wondered if this could be quantified somehow. Unfortunately, the MHRA told me that this information is not recorded by the Central Enquiry Point.


  1. Jo Brodie said,

    You might also enjoy the PMCPA which is Prescription Medicines Code of Practice something or other (on iPhone so can’t check in another window!) It rules on breaches of the ABPI code and while plenty are what you might expect (healthcare profs complaining about reps etc.) the majority (of the ones I’ve spotted) pit pharma A against Pharma B.


  2. jdc325 said,

    Thank you Jo – just been taking a look at the PMCPA website. Looks very interesting, and there are a fair few examples of Pharma firms acting in a similar manner to that described in my post about supplement mfrs.

  3. Mippy said,

    This is incredibly common. I work in copy clearance and we call these ‘competitor complaints’ – any participant in a competitive industry (supermarkets, retail, car manufacturers, flights) will be double-quick to complain if they think another company is getting away with something.

    Compliance with PMCPA doesn’t necessarily mean that the claims a product wish to make will be approved.

  4. jensenfrome said,

    Note that the ASA are making complaints about Healthspan advertising and then acting as adjudicators on those same complaints.

    That seems to be show partiality by the ASA to have sought out issues to challenge and then demonstrate a total lack of fairness in ruling on the complaints they themselves raised.

    Where does one complain about the ASA?

  5. Michael Grayer said,

    @jensenfrome – Alternatively it shows that Holland and Barrett initially raised the claim on the advert with only a couple of complaints so as to submit the claim quickly, without bothering about completeness, and when the ASA looked at the advert, they found a host of other things wrong with it that Holland and Barrett, in their haste, neglected to mention. I don’t think there’s any need to jump to conclusions about the ASA’s impartiality.

  6. jensenfrome said,

    You underestimate the professionalism of Holland & Barrett to suggest they rushed into complaining to the ASA about a competitor without a very careful review of the nature and implications of any such action.

    As far as the ASA is concerned in this particular case with Healthspan, it is simply fundamentally unfair when the accuser also passes judgement on their own accusation.

    Let the ASA pass independent judgement on complaints made by others about advertising.

    To be both make an accusation and then pass judgement on that accusation risks compromising the integrity and perceived objectivity of the ASA,.especially at a time when they ASA is passing judgement on a complaint from a competitor who may well will benefit from this ASA judgement.

  7. Big Pharma Naughtiness « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] to instances of the promoters of Alternative Medicine falling foul of regulators (for example the ASA). I thought it time to take a look at pharmaceutical […]

  8. The Nutritionism Industry « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] written before about food supplement manufacturers making untruthful and unsubstantiated claims (for example Equazen and Healthspan). The ASA have done a sterling job in policing the advertising […]

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