In 1988, at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, federal marshals in California seized millions of dollars worth of “appetite control” kits that were being sold illegally by Meditrend International, of San Diego. Despite warnings by FDA that the kits were being marketed illegally, Meditrend had continued to sell them and even claimed (falsely) that they were FDA-approved or had met FDA standards .
Meditrend International was originally registered as a for-profit corporation in Nevada. Records from the California Secretary of State indicate that in February 1988, it registered in California. A few months later, it entered the marketplace as a network marketing company and suggested in its literature that people who joined early and worked hard could become millionaires .
The kits consisted of bandages that looked like spot bandaids plus a solution that was to be applied to them. In May 1988, the Los Angeles Times reported that a company spokesperson had said that the kits included instructions for a regimen of diet and exercise and that Meditrend was not claiming that the patch and solution, used alone, were weight-reducing agents . However, I do not believe that was true. A company flier stated:
|Now you can have power over your own weight control center. . . The Appetite Control Patch is an amazing new development by medical doctors. It combines two time-tested therapies:
The APPETOFF solution is applied to a small spot bandage which is then placed on the wrist’s acupuncture point. A “bioelectrical” message is the sent to the brain’s appetite control center enabling you to control your appetite .
These claims, in addition to being illegal, were nonsensical. There is no known mechanism whereby a liquid applied to the skin can generate a “bioelectrical force” that can penetrate the skin. The retail price was about $30 for a package of 30 bandaids and a bottle of solution. Total sales were about $13 million in the first five months of 1988—with $6 million in April alone. The FDA estimated that the kits cost about $3 each to manufacture .
In June 1988, the government seized cartons of Appetoff patches and other material worth $474,000 retail at Meditrend in San Diego; $22 million worth of patches, Appetoff liquid, and other materials at Beco Chemical Co. of Lynwood, California, where Meditrend’s diet kits were made; and Appetoff labeling at Jerica Packaging Co. of Sylmar, California.
After the seizure, Meditrend stopped distributing Appetoff, and, as a result, distributors across the country returned their supplies. The FDA petitioned the court to seize the additional products, as well as newly manufactured kits that the firm had received from a supplier. In August, it seized an additional $4 million worth of the product. The seized products were destroyed in April 1989.
Between the seizure dates, the Meditrend was sold to Bokkie International. Both companies went out of business, but Meditrend’s owner, Gert Van Zijl, was able to relocate to South Africa with a substantial amount of money from the scam .
The FDA’s enforcement decisions in this case were very unusual. In the late 1980s, unapproved health products that were not marketed for the treatment of serious diseases were considered “economic frauds” and given near-zero enforcement priority. But in this case, the FDA not only did major seizures but did them quickly. When I asked about this, an official told me that the agency got so many inquires from consumers that it had felt pressured to act.
- Diet patches seized. FDA Consumer, September 1998, p 6.
- La Ganga ML. FDA looking into skin-patch diet aids, claims of two firms. Los Angeles Times. May 19, 1988.
- Major medical discovery: Appetite Control Patch. Meditrend International flyer distributed in February 1988.
- Keys to your success: Millionaires—Are they explorers, pioneers, leaders, or seekers? Meditrend International flyer distributed in February 1988.
- Diet patches destroyed. FDA Consumer, September 1989, pp 39-40.
- Johnson R. Testimony. Hearing on Deception and Fraud in the Diet Industry. Before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business, March 26, 1990.