Legislation by litigation? CSPI investigating Saw Palmetto claims


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Legislation by litigation? CSPI investigating Saw Palmetto claims

Related tags Dietary supplements Advertising

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is conducting a survey to assess “whether the advertising claims made about [a supplement] are legally and factually permissible”, with the initial focus on saw palmetto.

In an email to subscribers, Maia Kats, CSPI’s litigation director, stated that the organization is “continuing [its] investigation of the dietary supplements industry. 

“Our concern is that the health claims certain manufacturers and sellers of dietary supplements make on their labels and websites are not supported by science,” ​she writes. “According to a GAO Report, about 80% of advertised health claims for dietary supplements (in a $30 billion industry) lack the scientific substantiation required under federal law. 

“The focus of our investigation is not whether a supplement should be available for purchase or not, but whether the advertising claims made about it are legally and factually permissible.  For example, if an advertisement says that scientific studies have shown that saw palmetto is effective against BPH, or in possibly preventing cancer, that statement should be accurate and not false or misleading.”

The CSPI was contacted for comment but no response had been received prior to publication.

CRN: ‘We find a certain irony in CSPI using false claims to try to raise funds to fight false claims’

Commenting on the CSPI’s email, Steve Mister, president & CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, told is that this is not a new tactic from CSPI. 

“In recent years they’ve devised a strategic approach of ‘legislation by litigation,’ meaning that they’ll raise money for their own coffers by taking on the industry through lawsuits and attempt to change the law through intimidating companies with litigation rather than working through the political or regulatory  process,” ​he said.

“It also demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding about the range of evidence-based science to support health claims, as CSPI’s view is that only multiple randomized clinical trials are sufficient to support claims for dietary supplements despite both FDA and FTC’s position that a wide range of rigorous research can serve to support these claims.

“We agree that companies should follow advertising laws that mandate claims be truthful and not-misleading, but taxpayers rely on government agencies to make those kinds of determinations, not profit-motivated private enforcers.

“Finally, CSPI’s use of the 80 percent statistic from the GAO report to encourage potential plaintiffs to come forward is disingenuous in itself. The 2010 GAO report, from which it is based, is self-described as being an ‘unrepresentative’ sample of the industry. We find a certain irony in CSPI using false claims to try to raise funds to fight false claims,” ​said Mister.

Litigation conference

CSPI are not the only ones looking into the potential of litigation against the herbal sector. Harris Martin Publishing is hosting a one day conference about herbal supplements litigation​ on May 27 at the W Minneapolis Hotel - The Foshay.

The event, which is chaired by Elizabeth Fegan and Jason Zweig of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, includes discussion topics such as “An Overview of the New York Attorney General Investigation and Science At Issue”, “The FDA’s Role With Respect to Herbal Supplements”, ​and “The Role of Consumer Class Actions in the Herbal Supplements Industry”. ​(That last topic is split into a part 1 and part 2).

An industry insider described this as an “ominous development”​.

The conference organizers recently announced that, “due to high demand, [we have] secured a secondary, overflow room block at the Westin Minneapolis for attendees of this event”​.

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