AUTH/3620/3/22 - Complainant v Strides

Promotion of Strivit

  • Received
    15 March 2022
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    01 November 2022
  • Breach Clause(s)
  • Sanctions applied
    Undertaking received
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    No appeal

Case Summary

An anonymous, contactable complainant who described him/herself as a pharmacist complained about the promotion of Strivit (colecalciferol, vitamin D3) by Strides Pharma UK Ltd. The complaint was forwarded to the PMCPA by The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The complainant included a poster with the claim ‘suitable for vegetarians’ and stated that he/she had found that the product contained gelatin derived from beef bones. The complainant referred to an email from Strides which stated that, as per European law, the gelatin in Strides capsules was suitable for vegetarians as it used lime bone gelatin and not meat-sourced gelatin. However, the product was not suitable for vegans. The email further explained that the limed bone gelatin was from beef bones and cartilages and not meat which was why the company had the halal and kosher status. This was said to be the same as a vegetarian diet including dairy and eggs (from animals but not meat).

The complainant stated that Strides was claiming that as the gelatin was not from meat, it could be classed as vegetarian. However, the Vegetarian Society UK, advised that vegetarians did not eat products or by-products of slaughter.

The complainant alleged that patients and health professionals might be misled by Strides’ claim that the product was vegetarian when it was not.

The detailed response from Strides is given below.

The Panel noted that the advertisement at issue was headed ‘Switch & save 30% with … StritvVit D3’ and listed bullet points, including that StritVit was ‘Nut and soya free, suitable for vegetarians’ and ‘Kosher and Halal certified’.

The Panel noted the certificate of suitability, which appeared to have been provided to the complainant by Strides, stated that the gelatin was limed bone gelatin and the nature of animal tissues used in manufacture was bovine bones free from skulls, spinal cord and vertebrae.

The Panel noted that an email to the complainant, in response to a request, stated that StritVit was not suitable for vegans but was suitable for vegetarians: ‘Ours is limed bone gelatine from beef bones and cartilages (not meat) hence why we also have the halal and kosher status. This is the same as vegetarian diet including dairy and eggs (from animals but not meat)’.

The Panel noted Strides’ submission which included that defining a vegetarian was a difficult issue, with special reference to variation among different religious beliefs present, there were several types of vegetarians. Some ate dairy foods, others might choose to include eggs, while others abstained entirely from any food product that came from an animal. Further, that such questions had not been the focus of systematic empirical research and, in the company’s view, could not be answered conclusively.

The Panel considered that given the sensitivity of claims regarding the vegetarian status of medicines and their importance to particular health professionals and patients, such statements needed to be clear and accurate so there was no potential to mislead. It noted that Strides withdrew the claim in April 2022.

In the Panel’s view, whilst it acknowledged that there were various definitions for a vegetarian, the claim that StritVit was vegetarian would likely be interpreted by health professionals, and the wider public in the UK, as being free from gelatin from animals. It considered that, in general, vegetarians would view products from animals such as milk and eggs differently to products from animal bones, etc. The Panel considered that, in the circumstances, the claim that StritVit was vegetarian was misleading. A breach of the Code was ruled. The Panel, noting the sensitivities associated, considered that high standards were not maintained by Strides in that regard and ruled a breach of the Code accordingly.