FDA Warning Rebukes Company for What It 'Likes' on Facebook

Barbara Boland
By Barbara Boland | July 10, 2014 | 10:30 AM EDT

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent supplement maker Zarbee's a warning letter citing the company for improperly "liking" claims the FDA has not approved about the product on Facebook.

Zarbee's sells on its website a product which it calls: "cough syrup & congestion relief. Safe & effective adult cough and children's coughing remedy, melatonin sleep remedies & natural seasonal relief." There's a picture of a doctor along with the tagline "Zarbee's is recommended by over 40,000 doctors" on their site's homepage.

Given the claims emblazoned on the company's products themselves, and all over their website, it seems odd that the FDA sees fit to take aim at the company's Facebook likes. It specifically cites Zarbee's for liking six customer comments on its Facebook page - claims from customers that the products have helped with bronchitis, pneumonia colds, congestion, allergies, and insomnia.

This marks the second time that the FDA has cited a company for "liking" claims by third-party users, Regulatory Focus reports.

One comment from a customer on Zarbee's facebook page that the FDA says Zarbee's improperly "liked" read:

"I've been battling either bronchitis or pneumonia for the last 18 days and have tried everything...your Children's Cough Syrup and mucus relief got rid hoarsness [sic]...[m]y throat and chest are beginning to feel so much better...."

The FDA says that these comments constituted "evidence of intended use in the form of personal testimonials recommending or describing the use of products for the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease." Thus, it considers the company's "likes" to be equivalent to endorsements or promotions.

FDA also cited Zarbee's for its problems on Twitter, though for more conventional issues.

Here are the Tweets the FDA didn't like:

"Try @Zarbees #naturalremedies for Cold and Cough Season..."

"RT@MomCentral Have you tried #ZarbeesCough for cold and cough relief?"

The FDA's letter claims that the company's claims cause Zarbee's products to be classified as drugs under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). The FDA takes issue with Zarbee's claims that their product "calms coughs," offers "proven congestion relief," and relieves patients of "itching and redness" caused by seasonal allergies. Federal law prohibits dietary supplements from claiming that their products treat or cure a specific disease or condition.