Prosecution threat to sugar pill distributors

New Zealand Press Association, Mar. 10, 2003

Distributors claiming a sugar pill can help people suffering from HIV will be prosecuted and face hefty fines and possibly jail, a Health Ministry official said today.

Health Ministry Medsafe compliance team leader Peter Pratt said it was extremely worrying that distributors had appeared to be advertising Ambrotose as being able to help people with HIV, cystic fibrosis, cancer, arthritis, down’s syndrome and other illnesses and diseases.

“Anyone we find making the claims we will pursue for prosecution,” he told NZPA.

Mr Pratt said it was not illegal to sell the sugar-based pill, but it breached the Medicine Act if false therapeutic claims were made.

Should it be proved that false claims had been made, a jail sentence of up to six months could be imposed. An individual making the claims could be fined $20,000 and a company $100,000.

Ambrotose is made from eight sugars, aloe vera and vegetable extracts and was developed by the Texas-based company Mannatech, which has an “aid relief” arm called MannaRelief.

Mr Pratt will meet a company representative today to discuss the allegations.

He said the company had strict rules about what could be said about the pills and he understood that if it was found people were breaching company rules they would lose their distributorships.

Meanwhile, the pills could not be withdrawn but must be accurately advertised.

“All I can do is make sure they can’t make the claims.”

“This kind of behaviour preys on vulnerable people and uses the making of therapeutic claims to sell the product when these products, if they wanted to legally make those claims, would have to be registered as medicines and have all that evidence scientifically scrutinised to ensure its validity.”

Ambrotose, which costs about $NZ300 a month, is being sold through a pyramid-type scheme. The ministry had been alerted about the alleged claims after two complaints within the past fortnight.

New Zealand Aids Foundation executive director Kevin Hague said yesterday he was “staggered” to hear there were more than 200 people selling the pills in New Zealand.

The Aids Foundation rejected a request last year to endorse and sell the pill, and take part in a clinical trial.

“Over the years there have been very many of these essentially `snake oil’ solutions to HIV,” Mr Hague said.

“People have come to us with cures like injecting blood with hydrogen peroxide, and one woman periodically sends us letters claiming to be able to cure people of HIV by giving the right electro-magnetic frequencies and beaming rays into people.”

Mr Hague said the foundation was angry that sick people and people with children suffering from illnesses and disease could be taken in by the claims attached to the pills.

He said the claims amounted to “cynical exploitation of the desperate and vulnerable”.

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