FDA warns Mercola: Stop selling fake COVID remedies and cures

March 15, 2021

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned Joseph Mercola, an osteopath who heads a large online “alternative medicine” business empire, to stop selling products falsely touted as preventing or treating COVID-19.

The FDA warning letter states: “As described below, you sell products that are intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose or cure COVID-19 in people. We request that you take immediate action to cease the sale of such unapproved and unauthorized products for the mitigation, prevention, treatment, diagnosis or cure of COVID-19.”

The agency specifically cites “Liposomal Vitamin C,” “Liposomal Vitamin D3” and “Quercetin and Pterostilbene Advanced” — three products that Mercola’s heavily-trafficked website offered for sale as treatments for COVID-19.

By way of context, the FDA letter also provides a list of false claims made by Joseph Mercola in his advocacy of these and other fake treatments, such as the claim that “Vitamin C at extremely high doses acts as an antiviral drug, actually killing viruses” and that “Vitamins C and D are finally being adopted in the conventional treatment of novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.”

The letter warns Mercola to “take immediate actions to address the violations cited in this letter” and to advise the FDA within 48 hours what these steps are. It warns: “Failure to adequately correct any violations may result in legal action, including, without limitation, seizure and injunction.”

According to its header, the letter was sent by the FDA to Mercola on Feb. 18. However, when the Alliance for Science reviewed Mercola’s website on March 15, pages  advertising Vitamin C and quercetin as having “synergistic effects that make them useful in the prevention and early at-home treatment of COVID-19” were still on line.

The warning came after the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a science-based consumer advocacy organization that works closely with the Cornell Alliance for Science, wrote to the FDA. The July letter requested federal legal action against Mercola for making false claims on his website that at least 22 vitamins, supplements and other products available for sale on the web site — including the three referenced in the warning letter — can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 infection.

Laura MacCleery, CSPI policy director, also cited Mercola’s marketing practices when she testified last July before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the topic of protecting Americans from COVID-19 scams.

According to a recent exposé by the Washington Post, Mercola has accumulated a net personal wealth of over $100 million by peddling quack remedies and herbal supplements online. The newspaper also reported that Mercola had donated more than $2.9 million to the National Vaccine Information Center — one of the most prominent US anti-vaccine groups — over the past decade.

The Washington Post also revealed that Mercola had given $3.3 million to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), which similarly promotes anti-vaccine messaging and pseudoscientific “natural” approaches to both health and food. The OCA, in turn, has passed on large grants to anti-GMO groups such as US Right to Know, which runs campaigns aiming to silence or intimidate public sector scientists working in biotechnology. (Both the Cornell Alliance for Science and the author of this article have been targeted by USRTK.)

While big tech firms recently have been advertising their efforts to remove COVID-related misinformation, both Twitter and Facebook allow Mercola to maintain accounts. A pinned tweet currently advertises his latest book, which promotes conspiracy theories about COVID and is co-authored by Organic Consumers Association founder and director Ronnie Cummins.

Mercola’s continued ability to make apparently untrammeled use of social media to promote his commercial interests and spread health misinformation was recently profiled by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism. The BIJ found that “Mercola maintains two huge Facebook pages, one in English with almost 1.8 million followers and a Spanish-language version with more than 1 million, which have been used as channels for misinformation.”

It found that Mercola’s Facebook site was “a minefield of false claims” about COVID vaccines and featured an interview with Judy Miskovits — centerpiece of the notorious COVID conspiracist video “Pandemic.”

CSPI President Dr. Peter G. Lurie, who served in the past as FDA associate commissioner, has urged both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to do more to protect consumers from Mercola’s fraudulent marketing.

“It’s against the law to market dietary supplements as a treatment or cure for any disease, let alone COVID-19,” Lurie said. “We are very glad that the FDA has begun enforcement proceedings against Joseph Mercola. We also urge state attorneys general to investigate how they may further protect consumers from Mercola’s illegal marketing, should it continue.”

Whether the FDA will actually enforce its latest legal threat against Mercola remains to be seen.

Image: Shutterstock/Lightspring