Fraud in a Foreign Language

Article excerpt

In independent investigations, FDA and the Federal Trade Commission stopped a New York finn's false labeling and false advertising-in Chinese.

On Nov. 9, 1990, FTC settled its first false advertising case in which all claims were printed in a foreign language. The commission gave final approval to a consent agreement with American Life Nutrition and American Life FarFun, Inc. (collectively doing business as ALN), and ALN owner Ling Won Tong, forbidding Chinese-language ads containing false claims for food supplements.

FTC had received an anonymous letter from a Chinese physician who was concerned about some patients who were very sick: "When asked why they waited so long before seeing a doctor," says FTC attorney Harriet Guber Mulhern, "they said they were treating themselves with food supplements such as Life FarFun bee pollen and Yu Yu King fish oil. The manufacturer had placed huge ads in Chinese newspapers, claiming these products can cure or prevent breast cancer, heart disease, and many other serious illnesses."

Previously-in October 1988-a consumer had written to FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, questioning claims for several ALN products at Chinese grocery stores and drugstores in the Washington, D.C., area. The center asked FDA's New York district office to look into the matter, since ALN was located in New York City.

In December, FDA investigator Kwong Lee paid several visits to ALN to gather information and sample the ALN products: Life FarFun (pollen capsules), Million Vitaming (vitamin tablets), Gelee Royal American (royal jelly capsules), and Yu Yu King (fish oil capsules). Registered in 1986 as a New York corporation, the firm's business was primarily selling wholesale to Chinese Americans throughout the United States, with some retail and mail-order sales, Lee found.

Tong bought his products from a New Jersey finn, which repacked them with ALN labels. On Jan. 20, 1990, investigator Sandra Kershaw of FDA's Newark district office obtained records from the repacker to document interstate trade.

Liza Lam, an investigator with FDA's New York district, translated the labeling. Two products made medical claims.

FDA wrote to Tong on Feb. …