SAN FRANCISCO—A public interest group is seeking to prevent Bayer from making allegedly false claims on advertisements and labels for its One A Day multivitamins.
In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) contested the validity of claims made by Bayer that its multivitamins foster heart health, immunity and physical energy. Last year, Bayer’s One A Multivitamins netted approximately USD $225 million in sales, according to the complaint, which was filed on behalf of California residents Colleen Gallagher and Ilana Farar and seeks to represent a class of consumers around the nation who purchased Bayer’s multivitamins.
CSPI, based in Washington, accused Bayer of engaging “in a widespread marketing campaign to mislead consumers about the nature, composition, and nutritional and health benefits of its One A Day multivitamins in order to make these multivitamins more desirable to consumers, increase sales, and gain market share."
A spokesman for Bayer, whose probiotic Phillips’ Colon Health is currently the subject of litigation initiated by the federal government, did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on CSPI’s lawsuit.
Bayer makes heart health claims based on products that contain vitamins B6, B12, C, E and folic acid, according to the complaint. But studies have shown supplemented vitamins don’t prevent heart disease, rendering false Bayer’s claims, CSPI alleged. The lawsuit referenced television ads that tout Bayer’s multivitamins as promoting heart health.
CSPI claimed Bayer is making unlawful claims that its multivitamins can treat heart disease. Only approved drugs—not dietary supplements—are permitted under federal law to make disease claims.
“Consumers interpret Bayer’s heart health claims to mean that Bayer’s multivitamins bearing such claims will prevent or ameliorate heart disease," the lawsuit alleged. “However, Bayer’s products will not in fact prevent or treat heart disease."
Bayer’s immunity claims are reportedly based on the contents of vitamins A, C, and E; and selenium; iron; beta-carotene; and zinc in the multivitamins. Consumers interpret the claims as meaning they will avoid becoming sick by taking the multivitamins, according to the lawsuit. Bayer’s statements are untrue and unlawful disease claims, the 25-page complaint alleged.
Scientific studies have shown that supplementing one’s diet with the vitamins doesn’t affect immunity in adults who reside in developed countries like the United States, according to CSPI. In an analysis of 17 randomized, controlled trials, a 2006 article referenced by the public interest group found no evidence that participants who supplemented their diet with multivitamins achieved fewer days or episodes of infection, or a reduction in antibiotic use.
Finally, CSPI alleged Bayer has made misleading statements that its multivitamins promote physical energy based on the contents of vitamins B6 and B12, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), chromium, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin and folic acid.
“However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and scientific studies confirm that no amount of supplementation with these vitamins has any effect on the energy levels of Americans who are not vitamin deficient," CSPI declared.
Legal Claims and Relief
The lawsuit alleged violations of consumer protection statutes in a large number of states. CSPI also has asserted claims of unjust enrichment and misleading advertising under California Business and Professions Code §§ 17500, et seq.
CSPI submitted a request to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for the following relief:
· Approval of the class and certification of plaintiffs as representing the class;
· A declaration that Bayer has committed the alleged violations;
· Damages, restitution or disgorgement to plaintiffs and the class;
· An injunction prohibiting Bayer from committed the alleged deceptive practices; and
· Granting of compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees and costs.