The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued warnings to companies trying to turn the coronavirus epidemic into a cash cow.
On Tuesday, the agencies fired off letters to seven companies ostensibly selling unapproved products -- including teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver -- that “may violate federal law by making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat coronavirus (COVID-19).” Those claims could be serious because there’s currently no available products that have been proven to treat or guard against the virus.
The agencies say this is just a warning shot and that any other companies trying to make hay out of the situation can expect more of the same.
The letters were sent to the following companies:
It’s a big enough problem as it is
In a statement, FTC Chairman Joe Simons said that consumers are already suffering from enough anxiety due to the coronavirus and that these products aren’t helping.
“What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims. These warning letters are just the first step,” he said
“We understand consumers are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and urge them to talk to their health care providers, as well as follow advice from other federal agencies about how to prevent the spread of this illness. We will continue to aggressively pursue those that place the public health at risk and hold bad actors accountable,” added FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D.
We hear you loud and clear
There’s a lot at risk here. Selling consumers something unproven especially in a situation like this is a death wish for any business. The letters made it very clear that if the companies don’t remove their false claims within 48 hours, the Commission may seek a federal court injunction and a court order requiring money to be refunded to consumers.
Some of the companies were quick to respond to the allegations, but they also defended what they were selling.
“These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease,” Pure Vital Silver’s Jennifer Hickman said in a company post. “These are my personally held religious beliefs that are protected by the 1st amendment, and as stated they are not to be misconstrued as medical advice.”
N-Ergetics said on its website that it has addressed all the issues pointed out in the warning letter, but it also wanted to go on record that the colloidal silver it received a warning about has been “laboratory, university and doctor tested to kill 650 pathogens in vitro.”
Amy Weidner, the owner of Herbal Amy, told ConsumerAffairs much the same about her company’s herbal products.
“We are not selling any treatment products. We sell herbs and within the herbal product description I simply quoted an herbalist. That quote has been removed to adhere to the FDA requirements. Because it's an all natural herbal product, the FDA does not want me to quote anyone saying anything in the product description that would insinuate that it treats, mitigates or cures any diseases.”
The herbalist Weidner was referring to was Stephen Buhner, who seems to lean on his “analysis of how coronaviruses infect tissues, what tissues they infect, and the herbs that are useful to interrupt that process, as well as the herbs useful to shut down the cytokine cascade they create.”