Elmwood Park, NJ—After an investigation that began in 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has come down hard on some defendants that made weight-loss claims for the herb, hoodia. FTC claims the group claimed its ingredient could treat obesity (an unsubstantiated health claim), suppress appetite, reduce caloric intake and more; the ingredient didn’t always contain authentic Hoodia gordonii.

Advertisements, to which the Commission took issue, were placed to this effect. In a prepared statement, the FTC noted the decision was made as part of its “ongoing efforts to stop bogus health claims.”

Charges had been brought against three people and two companies for their claims that hoodia will make users lose weight. The Commission came down on them as follows:
• David J. Romeo, owner of Nutraceuticals International LLC of Elmwood Park, NJ and Stella Labs, are banned from saying any food, drug or supplement they market can result in weight-loss. If Romeo sells his Vermont vacation home (and lets the FTC collect on $635,000 in business loans owed to him), he will not have to pay a fine of $22.5 million.
• Craig Payton, a principal at Nutraceuticals International, also cannot make any weight-loss claims and would have had to forfeit assets had they not been already seized in another case.
• Deborah Vickery, a marketing executive for Nutraceuticals, was fined $4 million. This judgment was suspended, however, due to her inability to pay.

The three individuals and the company, along with the firm Stella Labs LLC, are prohibited from making (or helping others make) unsupported health claims. The orders against Craig Payton and Deborah B. Vickery were entered on August 2, 2010 while those against David J. Romeo, Nutraceuticals International LLC and Stella Labs LLC were made on October 27, 2011.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2011