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Great Earth Settles Over Ad Claims : Amino Acids Falsely Touted for Weight Loss, FTC Says

January 05, 1988|LESLIE BERKMAN | Times Staff Writer

Great Earth International, a nationwide chain of food supplement stores based in Tustin, has promised it will stop making claims that some of its products help users lose weight, build muscle and heal more easily, the Federal Trade Commission reported Monday.

FTC lawyer Michael Sirota said Great Earth, which has 150 franchise outlets, including about 50 in Los Angeles and Orange counties, signed a consent decree in October to stop advertising GHR Formula P.M., sold under the name Tri-Amino Plus P.M., as an overnight weight loss remedy.

" 'Lose while you snooze,' was their advertising pitch," Sirota said.

For its part, Great Earth says it stopped making such claims when the FTC began investigating in 1984.

According to Sirota, Great Earth falsely claimed that GHR Formula P.M. could stimulate the body to speed up production of growth hormones that could help burn up fat.

He said the company also falsely claimed that two separately marketed components of GHR Formula--L-Ornithine and L-Arginine--could speed body metabolism, increase healing and protect against physical and mental fatigue.

Sirota said several companies in recent years have touted amino acids as hormone stimulants for use by dieters and body builders. "This was to be a safe alternative to anabolic steroids, which are very dangerous drugs," he said.

Sirota said that in its investigation of the Great Earth products, the FTC "consulted all sorts of respected scientists, and they universally said the stuff was junk." He said the products "are not dangerous, just a total waste of money."

Other Investigations

Similarly, Sirota said that in 1985 the FTC reached a settlement with Weider Health and Fitness of Woodland Hills in which the body building company agreed to stop making the claim that its amino acid products could stimulate muscle development. And he said the FTC has "on-going investigations of makers of similar products."

Great Earth has sold more than $7 million worth of amino acid products since it started marketing them in late 1983, Sirota said.

By agreeing to the consent decree, Sirota said, Great Earth "did not admit or deny any wrongdoing." Under the decree, he said, Great Earth agreed to stop making specific advertising claims about the three amino acid products as well as to refrain from promoting the health benefits of any of its other products without "scientific substantiation." Violation of the agreement, he said, would make the company subject to a civil penalty of $10,000 per day.

Chris Barr, executive vice president of Great Earth, said the company stopped making the disputed claims about GHR Formula and its components soon after the FTC launched its investigation in April, 1984.

Barr said the disputed products account for only a small fraction of the business of Great Earth, which primarily sells vitamins. "We took the position that for the percentage of our (sales) volume that it represented, it wasn't worth the effort to document it scientifically to the satisfaction of the FTC," he said.

Since advertising in brochures and newspapers was stopped, Barr said, sales of the products have fallen off substantially.

But the manager of a Great Earth store in Buena Park said the amino acids still are "steady sellers," partly because customers have read health articles or heard advertising claims about similar products sold by other companies.

Barr said he believes that the FTC pursued Great Earth as an example for the rest of the industry. "We got more attention because we are bigger and a national company," he said. The FTC wanted to establish a precedent."

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