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The old saying that news travels fast and bad news travels faster could apply to the latest recall of dietary supplements. The Food & Drug Administration found sibutramine in almost three dozen weight-loss products distributed by Universal ABC Beauty Supply International Inc. of Brooklyn, N.Y. The products included Pro Slim Plus, 3 Days Fit and Eight Factor Diet.

The FDA publicized that Universal ABC was issuing a voluntary recall in a news release dated April 20. While the exact time is unknown, the news went on a Twitter feed called FDARecalls on the 22nd. The same day, the news also appeared on a Twitter feed called Foodalert.

The announcement hit the news wires and WebMD, too.  In some ways, the story was a replay of an earlier recall.  On Jan. 27, the FDA warned consumers not to take a dietary supplement called Venom Hyperdrive 3.0 because it contained sibutramine. The drug can be prescribed by a doctor for weight loss, but is not approved in the United States as a dietary supplement. And the FDA had warned of some of the products on the recall list as early as Dec. 22.

While Universal ABC does not have a Web site, several companies carrying the company’s products do. One of them, a B2B site called EC Plaza, identifies the manufacturer as being Shenzhen Technology Co. in Shenzhen, China. According to EC Plaza, the sales manager is named Mr. Mikey and the company Web site is the number 2. Another Web site, Sensational.com, says in a review that the product is a Japanese lingzhi supplement with the Chinese ingredient. The review lists as a product negative, “Manufacturer information unclear.”

The lack of a legitimate contact name and Web site should raise questions for a retailer or distributor. The biggest problem may be the speed with which negative news reaches audiences. The convenience and ease of Twitter and RSS feeds puts recall news ahead of the ability of most companies to respond. Only those firms that with plans in place have a chance to catch up and maybe get ahead of the news. Otherwise, all the search optimization tools that drive buyers to a particular product or online store will be used to highlight  company’s misfortune, intentional or not.

In that environment, a company and its products can suffer a huge hit to their public image.  The best plan is to know your products before they reach the market. And if efforts to maintain good manufacturing practices fail, have a response plan in place that involves every department — administrative, sales, marketing and customer service. A coordinated team effort is the only remedy.


Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.