This is an article about the market for hoodia gordonii, the diet pills used to suppress appetite and now being sold by a variety of companies. To begin this article, I have to tell you that I can't reveal everything I've discovered in this market. It's extremely frustrating, but it's absolutely true because some of the companies that are knowingly selling counterfeit or adulterated products are so powerful that if I were to reveal their names, I would be completely unable to defend myself against an overpowering censorship-style legal assault, and thus, they will unfortunately go unmentioned in this report.
But there is a lot of other good information in here, and if you want to know the truth about what's happening in the hoodia industry, I believe this is absolutely the only place that you can get it in unbiased form. Why is that? It's because no one else who is truly independent is looking into this issue.
Certainly any hoodia company out there that's selling an honest product is conducting a variety of testing, trying to find out who has counterfeit products and who has real products and trying to inform and educate their own customers about the fact that they have the real thing. But, as always, test results offered by companies who have financial interest in proving their product to be genuine simply don't carry the same weight as independent test results from an unbiased third company.
As it happens, I am that third party. I sell no hoodia products. I make no money from the sales of any hoodia products, and I get no kickbacks, commissions or affiliate fees of any kind from any hoodia manufacturer, reseller, bulk powder company or anything related to that. In other words, I have no financial interest whatsoever in the hoodia industry. I do, however, have a very high consumer advocate interest in this market. I'm actually fascinated by this market, because it is the single most corrupt and deceptive market I have seen in the natural health industry, and I believe it is my role to help set things right in this industry in order to limit the damage to the credibility of nutritional supplements as a whole.
Things are so terrible out there with hoodia and all the counterfeit products on the market that it is discrediting the entire nutritional supplements industry, which is very frustrating for me to see. That's one of the main reasons I am pursuing the truth on this subject.
Now, the truth can often be a difficult thing to come by, and just when you think you've found it, sometimes you're presented with evidence showing you that it isn't the truth after all. The truth is a journey, not a destination, and that is especially the case with the hoodia industry. So, let me explain where the problems begin when you're trying to authenticate who has real hoodia and who doesn't.
Who has real hoodia?
You might think this is a simple issue. You might think, "Why don't you just buy samples of all the products, send them to a lab, and get them authenticated?" Of course, that's where a normal, sane person would begin this process, but, unfortunately, as it turns out in this industry, there is not even an agreed upon definition of what hoodia is at the lab.
There are basically two labs in the United States that dominate the hoodia testing market, and these two labs disagree with each other on what kinds of tests should be done, how they should be done, and even what the definition of genuine hoodia is. They may not even be working off the same botanical samples. In other words, they could have completely different plants, for all we know. I know where one plant comes from for one of these companies, but the other company has not volunteered this information so far, so I can't tell you where that plant came from. Is it even real hoodia?
So, we have these two different labs, and they're not just competitors; it seems they are, at times, at each other's throats in terms of talking about how the other one has unreliable testing practices. As I am not a trained botanical lab technician, I'm not qualified to tell you what hoodia is supposed to look like under a microscope. I can tell you whom I believe, however. And that answer is Alkemist Pharmaceuticals (www.Alkemist.com)
So, that's the first problem with the hoodia industry. You have these two labs that disagree with each other on what hoodia is in the first place, and how to test for it and authenticate it. Therefore, there are some companies sending samples to one lab that certifies them as being "the real thing," and meanwhile, you can buy that same product off the shelf and send it to the other lab, where it might fail those authenticity tests, making you believe that the product is counterfeit or adulterated when, in fact, it might be genuine. It's just that the lab test results differ, and that's only the beginning of what's wrong with the hoodia industry.
A divided industry: The honest vs. the cheap
In reality, the hoodia industry is divided into two camps. The first camp consists of people who are honest, have integrity and make a genuine effort to purchase authentic hoodia and provide the real thing to their customers through their nutritional supplements. Two companies that I know are doing this come to mind right away: One is Hoodoba, another is Desert Burn.
I'm sure there are others out there, but these are the ones I am most familiar with, and I've spoken with these people at length and have seen test results of their products, and I believe that these people are working diligently to provide honest products.
The second camp of people in the hoodia industry are those who are just out there to sell a profitable product and who don't really care what's in it. There are some buyers who are just looking for the best price on anything that claims to be hoodia coming out of South Africa. Genuine hoodia can cost anywhere from $200 per kilo to $350 per kilo. Adulterated hoodia, or sawdust, is, of course, a heck of a lot cheaper. It might be only $50 per kilo. Unfortunately, this leads to a situation in which dishonest operators can buy a non-hoodia product that is labeled hoodia and sell it for a very high profit, because, obviously, their costs are much lower when they're filling capsules with sawdust rather than genuine hoodia.
There is a huge profit margin for these operators. This affords them the opportunity to spend a lot more money marketing their products on search engines like Google. I can assure you that right now, if you search Google for hoodia gordonii, at least five out of the top 10 results that show up there as advertisers represent counterfeit hoodia products. There's absolutely no question about this. In fact, it's probably a much higher percentage than that, but you can count on at least half of them being counterfeit.
Again, I'm not going to name which ones they are, for legal reasons, and it's very frustrating for me to have to censor myself in that regard out of fear of legal backlash from those companies. But the fact is, those companies are raking in tens of millions of dollars by selling counterfeit products, and they actually have more money to spend on advertising than the companies selling the real thing.
How consumers get conned by hoodia companies
So, you have these two camps. Camp one is the honest camp, and camp two is the con camp. Now, the question for you as a consumer is how do you tell the difference between these two camps?
Again, you might think that's easy, but it's not. It's actually very, very tricky. If you're a con artist and you're running a hoodia business and you're in camp two, your job is just to convince people that you have the real thing, and that's very easy to do. All you have to do is get one sample of genuine hoodia, bottle it up and send it off to one of the two laboratories doing the testing in the United States. Once you get a lab test result that shows it to be genuine, you post that result on your web site, and that's the last thing you do with genuine hoodia.
From that point forward, you just buy adulterated hoodia, or counterfeit hoodia, and you fill all your bottles with that substance, which could include sawdust, cellulose, ground up leaves or any other plant material. Then it looks to the world like you're selling the real thing, because you have this certificate, and you have lab tests that show it to be genuine.
Of course, all these con artist web sites have text on them that says, "We're the only ones with real genuine hoodia, and everybody else is counterfeit." That's how you play this game if you're a con artist, and I guarantee you that every con artist out there selling hoodia is doing this exact same thing.
The second thing a con artist does is post a counterfeit CITES certificate, which is a certificate of export from South Africa that covers the exportation of protected plant species. Genuine hoodia will always be accompanied by a CITES certificate. Real hoodia cannot be exported out of South Africa without this certificate.
So what do hoodia con artists do? They download the certificates that have been posted by legitimate companies, and then they do a little Photoshop photo editing to modify the original information on this certificate. Then they post the altered image on their own web site, and all of a sudden, it looks like they have their own CITES certificate, and they have lab test results showing their product to be genuine. They appear to have two pieces of documentation "proving" that their product is real, while, in fact, they know it to be counterfeit.
The consumer, of course, is clueless in this situation because if you visit one of these web sites, it all looks real. They might even have testimonials that are real or fictitious, and it looks like a good deal, because it's a lower price, perhaps, than some of the other web sites where you've seen hoodia. People buy into this, and this happens over and over, thousands of times a day across this country and around the world.
Easy money for crooks
Based on my own research, I now believe that as much as 75% of all the hoodia gordonii supplements sold in the United States today are counterfeit (my estimate used to be lower, but things have gotten worse). In other words, the hucksters and con artists who seem to dominate this industry are scamming the American people in a big way to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
You might ask, "Why are there so many crooks in the hoodia business? You don't see crooks in the business of selling vitamin B12 or cod liver oil or other supplements. Why hoodia?"
The answer is pure economics. Hoodia is where the money is. At $300 a kilogram, hoodia is quite a lucrative commodity. It approaches the price of some high-end industrial metal alloys or bulk diamonds. There's obviously money to be made when something can be sold for $300 a kilo and not be considered blatantly illegal (it's not crack cocaine, for example).
On top of that, there is very high consumer demand. Consumers, in the United States especially, are desperate to find solutions for losing weight, and they're willing to spend almost anything, it seems, on a supplement that promises to help them lose body fat without having to expend much effort. Therefore, you have very high demand for the product, coupled with very high profit margins on the adulterated product, which means there is a very strong incentive for con artists to counterfeit this ingredient and make huge margins as a result. That's why you see so much crime in this industry, and that's why it's unique to hoodia gordonii.
Protecting against fake hoodia
So, what can you do as a consumer to protect yourself? Well, it's extremely difficult to actually weed out who is honest from who is a crook in this industry. I've had trouble, and I've talked to many people. I've spent dozens of hours researching this. I've talked to labs, I've looked at countless hoodia lab test results and I've tried many different hoodia products myself.
If you so desire, you can take my word for what I've found to be true, but even what I've found isn't all-encompassing. For example, I have not reviewed every hoodia product on the market. I'm sure there are genuine hoodia products that I have not covered and that I do not know to be genuine. In fact, a manufacturer of hoodia products called me to complain about my last article, because I didn't mention them, and they said they have the real thing and that I was telling people to only trust a few companies. Well, the fact is, it costs me about $600 to run each test, and if there are 50 companies selling hoodia, that's $30,000 that I would have to spend on test results, while getting absolutely no return whatsoever.
Frankly, I don't have $30,000 to spend on lab testing for a product that I don't even sell and that I make no commissions for. I have no way to even make back that $30,000, so that's simply not going to happen. I can't test everything on the market, and, at the same time, I can't charge companies for testing because then I would be breaking my own rules by accepting money from supplement companies, and I'm not going to do that. The only way I maintain integrity, as an investigative journalist, is to have no financial ties whatsoever with the companies that I cover. Therefore, I'm in kind of a bind here, as I can't afford to test all the products out there, but I'm always going to get complaints from companies that I was unable to test. At the same time, some companies that have counterfeit products are also going to call me up and insist that they have the real product. I've seen that happen, as well.
I do know, at least with a high degree of certainty, that there are several legitimate hoodia gordonii products on the market. They include Desert Burn and Hoodoba. You can't go wrong buying these products. At the same time, I know the names of many other products that are absolutely counterfeit. I've spoken with some of the people at these companies, and I don't trust them. They sound like crooks, and they answer questions just like crooks would. I do not trust them, and I do not trust their products, and I wish I could name them here in this report, but I cannot for the reasons I've already mentioned. However, I can assure you they are big names. Some of the most popular brands you've seen are counterfeit. Even national retailers are right now carrying hoodia products that I know to be counterfeit.
So, what else can you do as a consumer? Let's say you don't want to take my word for it, and you want to check this out for yourself. Good for you. I applaud that effort, but it's very difficult. You can ask for CITES certificates or lab results from these companies; you can ask for all the documentation in the world, and every piece of documentation could be counterfeit and there's absolutely no way you would know it.
You can even find lab results about one company's product posted on another company's web site, and those could be counterfeit as well, because, of course, one company has an economic incentive to discredit everyone else. Some companies post lab results that are trustworthy about competitors, but other companies post completely fictitious results.
Hoodia needs to be cleaned up
Frankly, what needs to happen in this industry is someone needs to jump in and be an authority and clean this thing up. Someone needs to form an organization that actually charges fees to do random batch testing of this and demonstrate to the world who is authentic who is not.
Some have said that I should be the person to start such an organization, but I'm not willing to do that because, again, I don't want to get into the business of taking money from these companies. However, the fact remains that if someone does not do this, the Food and Drug Administration is sooner or later going to step in and either shut down the entire industry or regulate hoodia supplements out of existence. In fact, the FDA will probably quote some of my own research amongst the reasons for doing this, and this would be a great shame because it would take away a useful herb from the general public and put it under the jurisdiction of an organization that I believe to be highly corrupt -- perhaps even more corrupt than the hoodia industry itself.
Yet, at the same time, the FDA would be legally justified in regulating hoodia supplements to protect the consumers from all the adulterated products on the market right now. Therefore, I wouldn't disagree with the FDA stepping into the hoodia industry, and I might even applaud them for doing so, however, I simultaneously don't trust the organization. Regardless, somebody needs to do something because, eventually, consumers are going to be harmed by some adulteration of this product, and I mean physically harmed, not just financially harmed.
I think the Department of Justice needs to be involved here, as well. Serious investigations need to be taking place. The hoodia con artists need to be arrested, imprisoned and denied the ability to keep selling fraudulent products to the American public, and if there's any possible way I can assist in that effort to help round up and prosecute these hoodia con artists, I would be more than happy to do so, on my own time and on my own dime.
I would love to help clean up this market so that legitimate, honest hoodia gordonii resellers or manufacturers can be free to sell an honest product at an honest price to consumers who want assistance with their weight loss efforts. That's what I want to see. I want to see dishonest operators locked away, and I want to see honest operators given a level playing field in which they can compete on customer service and efficiencies and how well they are able to deliver an honest product to the consumer.
Today, we are a long way from that. In fact, we are in the wild, wild West of the hoodia gordonii industry. We're nowhere near an honest, civilized industry in which consumers can trust the vast majority of operators.
Just to repeat, the two companies that I absolutely DO trust, and who are selling genuine hoodia gordonii, are Hoodoba and Desert Burn.
Other industries also suffer from fraud
By the way, for some context here, this is not a unique problem for the nutritional supplement industry. In fact, if you look at the medical industry, the vast majority of money changing hands is fraudulent. California is suing 37 pharmaceutical companies. New York is suing companies over Medicaid fraud, and there's so much fraud in Medicare that it packs on literally billions of dollars of waste that does nothing but pad the pockets of crooks. I think it's human nature to cheat, and it's only those who have a strong ethical code who will decide not to cheat and play fair with the world. However, there are many people out there who will not play fair. Hoardes of them work in conventional medicine.
You've seen the Enron scandals, you've seen WorldCom and you remember the dot-com boom and bust, which was a giant scam designed to exploit the savings of the American people. You've seen it all. You know there are operators out there who aren't honest. It's not limited to the hoodia industry by any means. This sort of dishonesty is rampant in the pharmaceutical industry and in the insurance industry, which is now up for major criminal charges thanks to investigations done by Eliot Spitzer, attorney general of New York. There are also major problems in the construction industry, the energy industry and, of course, the financial industry. There are always people out there willing to cheat in order to make a buck. There are always people out there willing to rip you off, and hopefully we can put some of those people behind bars and help clean up this hoodia industry so we can have honest products on the shelves.
Do you want to know who the honest companies are? Keep reading this web site; I cover them all the time. I talk about honest companies like Amy's Kitchen, making organic frozen foods that are healthy and don't contain chemical additives, or Peaceful Planet, making wonderful rice protein energy shakes. Then there are companies like Lydia's Organics -- a small outfit making the best portable health food I've ever seen -- and Food for Life, which makes Ezekiel breads, tortillas and cereals.
There are probably hundreds of other companies I've mentioned or covered in my articles and reporting. There are many honest operators out there, and I aim to support those honest, high-integrity organizations as best I can. I want to give them every opportunity to talk about their products and reach out to new customers because I want to support honest people, and I want to punish those who are dishonest and who are exploiting consumers for their own greed. So, stick around and stay tuned. There's a lot more to this story, and it will no doubt get a lot more interesting.
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