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Australian sharks in advertising misleading!

The ACCC has accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from Universal Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd, admitting that representations on its Wealthy Health website that a product contained squalene from sharks in Australian waters were likely misleading, in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.

Universal Pharmaceuticals is an Australian manufacturer and online retailer of vitamins and supplements and owns several brands in the industry, including website and brand Wealthy Health.

Between February 2021 and October 2022, Universal Pharmaceuticals published statements on the Wealthy Health website that its ‘Organic Squalene 1000mg with Vitamin E’ product is ‘sustainably sourced from sharks from the crystal-clear oceans of Australia’ and ‘obtained from the clear oceans surrounding Australia’.

The ACCC was concerned that Universal Pharmaceuticals was aware since 2019 that its squalene supplier was unable to guarantee that the squalene it supplied was sourced exclusively from sharks from Australian waters.

‘Universal Pharmaceuticals represented to consumers that it had sourced Australian ingredients when, based on the information we had obtained, we were concerned that it knew from at least 2019 that the squalene used was not sourced exclusively from Australian waters,’ ACCC Commissioner Liza Carver said.

‘These types of claims cannot be independently verified by consumers so businesses must be extremely careful they do not mislead or deceive when marketing their products.’

‘Consumers are often willing to pay a premium for products that advertise they are made with Australian ingredients, and statements that mislead consumers about the origin of ingredients used may also result in consumers unfairly preferencing that product over other equivalent products in the market,’ Ms Carver said.

Universal Pharmaceuticals has undertaken not to make representations that its products contain squalene from sharks sourced from Australia waters unless it has evidence to support these claims.

The company also agreed to publish a corrective advertisement on the relevant product page of the Wealthy Health website for 90 days and establish and implement an Australian Consumer Law Compliance program.

Universal Pharmaceuticals has offered refunds to two customers who purchased the product, and has undertaken to provide consumer law training to its director and staff.

The company has also cooperated with the ACCC during the investigation.

The ACCC intends to alert other businesses that are making similar Australian origin claims about squalene products to this outcome, and encourage them to review their marketing and advertising practices to ensure they comply with the Australian Consumer Law.

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