The US Federal Trade Commission has taken legal action against two companies selling what they claimed were genetically tailored nutritional supplements.
The FTC is similar to the UK Office of Fair Trading, providing consumer protection. They first took action against the company GeneLink and related former subsidiary foruTM International earlier this year on the basis of deceptive advertising; they provided nutritional supplements and a skincare product said to be customised to the individual customer’s unique genetic profile. Customers provided cheek swabs for the initial DNA sample.
The false claims made in marketing were that these nutritional supplements could effectively treat a range of diseases and conditions including diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. The companies were also said to have inadequate information security practices.
Final legal agreements stipulate that the companies may not claim that any product will ‘treat, prevent, mitigate, or reduce the risk of any disease’ whether by the modulation of genetic effects or based on individual genetic assessments – ‘unless the claim is true and supported by at least two adequate and well-controlled studies’ (hardly unreasonable evidence requirements for medical claims). They are also forbidden to misrepresent scientific research regarding any product, genetic test or assessment, or to misrepresent their own privacy and security practices with regard to personal data; and to implement adequate security practices.
This is the first example of legal action against providers of personalised genomics products of this nature in the US. Whilst nutrigenomics is a legitimate area of ongoing scientific enquiry, it is also an ideal opportunity for misleading commercial claims.