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Group Takes Aim at Supplement Claims

Wed, Jun. 11, 2003
David Ho
Associated Press

Claims that a calcium supplement made from dead marine coral can cure everything from heart disease to cancer are too good to be true, federal fraud fighters said Tuesday, announcing legal actions against marketers of the product.

The Federal Trade Commission is asking a federal court in Chicago to shut down an operation that sells Coral Calcium Supreme, a product advertised with one of the most widely run infomercials on cable television this year. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.

The FTC and the Food and Drug Administration also are sending dozens of warning letters to retail and Internet marketers of coral calcium products, ordering them to remove false or deceptive advertising. Many claims for the products go far beyond any scientific evidence on the health benefits of calcium, the FTC said.

"The danger here is using an ineffective treatment for a really serious condition," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Calcium is good stuff - it builds strong bones, but it doesn't cure cancer."

The FTC lawsuit accuses Shop America and Deonna Enterprises Inc., and their officers - Kevin Trudeau and Robert Barefoot - of making unproven health claims. The agency wants to freeze their assets and return money to consumers.

"We disagree with the FTC's interpretation of our practices," said Nancy Sterling, a spokeswoman for Barefoot. "There is ample research to support the benefits of calcium."

A lawyer for Trudeau did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Gary Harris, 37, a New York sales executive, said he needed relief from chronic pain caused by old sports injuries and bought the calcium product after seeing an infomercial that promised the supplement could help. He said in the advertising the claims had seemed to be authentic.

"I ended up taking the product for 60 days and really didn't have any results," Harris said. "I just felt like I was scammed."

Beales said the FTC investigated the claims as part of its effort to monitor the most widely viewed infomercials for accurate advertising. The agency has recently increased the resources it uses to investigate claims for dietary supplements and to sue marketers it feels are engaging in false advertising.

The 30-minute informercial for Coral Calcium Supreme aired on channels including Comedy Central, the Discovery Channel and Bravo, the FTC said. The ads say the product is made of Japanese marine coral and a one-month supply costs about $20.

The government doesn't know how much was sold to consumers, Beales said.

The FTC's complaint said the promotions falsely claimed the product will treat or cure all forms of cancer and diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, heart disease and chronic high blood pressure. The ads also made allegedly false claims that scientific research shows that calcium supplements can cure cancer.

The FTC also is suing Trudeau, who has promoted items in infomercials for years, for allegedly violating a 1998 court order that prohibits him from making unproven product claims. The lawsuit says the coral calcium ads and promotions for pain-relieving product called Biotape violate that order.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press