© Louise Hall at Fairfax writes:
An academic who complained to health authorities about a company that marketed a herbal spray as ”the most effective slimming solution available in the world today” has failed to have an $800,000 defamation case thrown out.
Ken Harvey, an adjunct senior lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne and a regular campaigner against non-scientific products and services, has accused SensaSlim of stymying an investigation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration into its weight-loss product by launching legal action in the NSW Supreme Court.
The TGA’s complaints resolution panel had received a number of complaints about the product, including those from Dr Harvey and Professor Lesley Campbell, from the St Vincent’s Hospital diabetes centre, alleging that SensaSlim has made outlandish claims without scientifically acceptable evidence.
However, the panel is restrained from investigating the product while legal proceedings are under way.
”By having a legal case, they have totally stopped the complaint panel for at least a year but they can continue promoting and selling it and they are laughing all the way to the bank,” Dr Harvey said.
Terry Harrison, SensaSlim’s legal adviser, denied it was designed to ”gag” Dr Harvey, and said it was a response to his complaint on http://www.auspharmacist .net.au. ”He’s trying to suggest this is some sort of gag order. Nothing can be further from the truth,” Mr Harrison said.
But in a newsletter to SensaSlim franchisees obtained by the Herald, a company spokesman, Adam Adams, said its lawyers had ”found a way to defend the company”.
”This defamation action, which could be in the courts for a year or two or even longer, basically gives an iron-clad protection that nobody can raise a complaint against SensaSlim to the [complaints resolution panel] and hurt us,” Mr Adams said.
The spray, sold in pharmacies and beauty salons without a prescription, is marketed as a ”dieter’s dream”.
The ”potent active ingredients” desensitise the tastebuds and ”naturally suppress the appetite”, the SensaSlim website says. It cites a clinical trial of 11,453 people in more than 100 countries in which 87.2 per cent of subjects lost 10 per cent or more of their body weight, without changing exercise levels or diet.
Dr Harvey, whose complaint about the advertising of another product, Optislim Max, as ”clinically proven to aid weight loss by prolonging gastric emptying”, was upheld by the panel, said SensaSlim should be forced to retract claims such as ”TGA approved” and ”gives willpower to a person to lose weight whilst they sleep”.
”This is the most egregious attempt to delude the public with respect to the claims made for complementary medicine weight loss product that I have ever encountered,” he said.
On Wednesday, Justice Lucy McCallum dismissed Dr Harvey’s notice of motion to have the claim struck out and the proceedings dismissed. She adjourned the matter to August 15 and awarded Dr Harvey indemnity costs.
The group Australian Skeptics has launched a fund-raising drive to contribute to Dr Harvey’s costs to defend the defamation action.