QVC in Legal Jam Over Jelly

QVC Inc. has gotten in a jam with the Federal Trade Commission over allegedly deceptive claims for bee-jelly dietary supplements and other weight-loss products.

The Justice Department filed suit today in a Philadelphia federal district court against the West Chester-based company, charging the nation's biggest home shopping channel with making unsubstantiated claims for Lite Bites weight-loss products, Bee-Alive royal jelly dietary supplement, For Women Only "Zero Fat" Pills, and Lipofactor Cellulite Target Lotion.

The government wants civil penalties, consumer redress and more.

"QVC’s claims for these products are not only unsubstantiated, but for some, scientifically impossible," said FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Howard Beales in announcing the action.

For its part, QVC appeared ready to go to court rather than settle the complaint. In a statement, QVC President and CEO, Doug Briggs, sounded ready for a fight: "We work extraordinarily hard to make sure that our 24-hour live broadcasting meets the highest possible standards of truthfulness, and we are ready to demonstrate that fact to the Court.  I look forward to having the chance to show a judge the exhaustive efforts that QVC makes in this regard." QVC would not go beyond that statement, saying it does not comment on pending litigation.

The FTC says QVC violated an order stemming from the 2000 settlement of a charge that the company made unsubstantiated claims for Cold-Eeze zinc lozenges. That order required that QVC have "competent and reliable scientific evidence" substantiating any claims that a dietary supplement could "cure, treat, or prevent any disease, or have any effect on the structure or function of the human body," according to the FTC complaint.

The commission began cracking down on bogus diet ads this year, including asking the broadcast and cable industries to better monitor the claims made on their air. It has not targetted stations or cable networks for the deceptive ads they carried, and for the purposes of this suit is targetting QVC as the marketer, reseller and retailer of the product.

The complaint does not mean that QVC broke the law, only that the FTC thinks it has and will let a court settle it unless QVC decides to settle. At press time it was still hawking Lite Bites on its Web site, which was alos cited in the complaint.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.