CONSUMERLAB.COM RESPONDS TO VITAMIN INDUSTRY CLAIM TO BE “VINDICATED” IN DEFAMATION CASE
WESTCHESTER, NEW YORK — November 17, 2006 — ConsumerLab.com (www.consumerlab.com), an independent evaluator of health and nutrition products, responded to a press release issued today by the vitamin lobbyist/trade group called the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). In the release, CRN contends that ConsumerLab.com’s decision to end a defamation suit against the trade group “vindicates CRN.” “Nothing could be further from the truth,” stated Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab.com.
The suit against CRN originated last year shortly after CRN issued a different press release about a “complaint” it sent to the FTC regarding ConsumerLab.com. Both the release and complaint were rife with what ConsumerLab considered mischaracterizations and defamatory remarks. The FTC saw no reason for an investigation and promptly informed CRN that it was taking no action. CRN’s attorneys tried to block the legal action, but the Court allowed the defamation suit to proceed. During the course of the suit, ConsumerLab learned that CRN’s actions were part of an elaborate and well-planned campaign which, ConsumerLab believes, was designed to undermine its credibility with journalists and the public – in essence, to silence it. The campaign included the following elements:
- CRN hired the firm Dezenhall Resources for a “3 to 4 month campaign” beginning November, 2004 with a budget of up to $200,000.Dezenhall Resources is not an ordinary PR firm.
- On its own website, Dezenhall explains, “We don't conduct corporate branding programs, but we do identify vulnerabilities and neutralize critics.”
- Dezenhall was the focus of the April 17 Business Week article “The Pit Bull of Public Relations.” The article cites examples of other campaigns against critics of industry.
- CRN and/or Dezenhall developed a list of 94 journalists, with a particular focus on those who had “Previously written on ConsumerLab.com.” These journalists were specifically targeted to personally receive the CRN release about ConsumerLab.
- Communications to this list were suggestive of an actual FTC investigation or action. Emails carried subject heads such as “FTC – Shady ‘watchdog’.”
CRN’s members include many of the largest players in the $21 billion vitamin and supplement industry. ConsumerLab has reported problems with products from several of these companies. Compared to ConsumerLab, CRN’s potential resources are virtually unlimited. Its members also include the two main competitors to ConsumerLab’s Voluntary Certification Program.
CRN’s legal tactics had forced ConsumerLab to divert an extraordinary amount of resources to the case. Dr. Cooperman explained, “This created a dilemma for us: Was it more important to continue our work uninterrupted or to see justice prevail?” For practical purposes, ConsumerLab’s position was already vindicated when the FTC found no reason to take action with respect to CRN’s complaint and again when the New York court rejected CRN’s attempt to dismiss the defamation suit. “It was clear that continuing at full steam to test products and publish our reports for consumers was more important than eventually winning this case. We could not let CRN slow us down. We chose to drop the case.”
In the new book, What to Eat, Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU Professor of Nutrition, sums up the CRN attack on ConsumerLab.com quite well. After citing many of the problems with supplements uncovered by ConsumerLab.com, Dr. Nestle writes, “With these kinds of results available for anyone who has $24 and access to the Internet, it is not hard to see why [CRN] has asked the [FTC] to investigate ConsumerLab’s ‘deceptive business practices’ and supposed lack of transparency.... The irony of this complaint is striking. If you want to know who is responsible for the ‘anything goes’ state of supplement regulation…I put the Council for Responsible Nutrition right at the head of the list.”
Dr. Cooperman cautioned journalists, “It is important that you understand CRN’s campaign against ConsumerLab, which we believe was designed to manipulate the press and consumers. You are the gateway to consumers who have the right to know when the supplements they buy are honestly described on their labels, and when they are not.”
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