The Texas Attorney General’s office has announced that its litigation against Mannatech has been concluded with a settlement agreement. The agreement mandates that Mannatech return $4m to customers and its founder, Sam Caster, must pay $1m in fines. Caster is also barred from serving as a director, officer, or employee of the company for 5 years, and cannot participate in any multilevel marketing program for 5 years. Caster had been sued twice before by the Texas AG’s office for deceptive marketing of another company he ran, Eagle Shield.
The litigation was filed in 2007, and accused Mannatech of using an illegal marketing scheme to defraud consumers Mannatech markets supplements called “glyconutrients” that supposedly provide the body with “essential sugars” that promote “better communication” between cells and support the immune system. Leading scientists are critical of the company’s theory of “glycobiology,” and one was prompted to characterize the product as literally, a sugar pill (well known in science as a placebo with no active ingredients).
Still pending is the litigation against three other defendants named in the litigation, H. Reginald McDaniel, a Mansfield physician who has been long associated with the company, and two charitable organizations tied to the company, MannaRelief Ministries and Fisher Institute for Medical Research. The litigation accused them of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
We often look to the FDA to regulate this industry, and forget the excellent work done by state agencies. Remember, it was the Texas FDA that began the work against the dangerous marketing of ephedra, which the FDA later took over. In the past, state agencies in California, New York and Florida have also taken strong positions against dangerous or deceptively marketed supplements. The fundamental problem, however, is that we cannot rely on state-by-state regulation; the problem requires a federal solution. Only a few states are large enough to fund their state FDA adequately or support litigation efforts like those of the Texas AG. (And then there is Utah, where the diet supplement industry is treated like a state-sponsored drug cartel.) While we must encourage the efforts of states like Texas, the states should not be left to clean up the industry themselves. The fact that Texas had to bring the litigation at all speaks volumes about the larceny DSHEA permits and the harm that has come from the FDA’s inaction. The FDA should be handling these problems with a consistent and unrelenting regulatory effort, and Congress should amend DSHEA to permit the FDA to do its job.