Norfolk, Va. - Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson's "age-defying" diet shake is causing quite a stir.
The shake isn't new; Robertson has been touting its benefits on his nonprofit Christian Broadcasting Network and giving away the recipe free for years. But Robertson recently teamed up with General Nutrition Corp., a Pittsburgh-based health-food chain, to distribute the shake nationally.
That's caused at least one evangelical watchdog group to claim Robertson is abusing his nonprofit status and a scorned bodybuilder who used the shake to help lose nearly 200 pounds to threaten legal action.
The televangelist and host of the daily "The 700 Club" says he's simply exercising his right to start a business.
Trinity Foundation, a Dallas-based religious media watchdog organization, has been critical of past Robertson pursuits, including his African gold and diamond mines and Kalo-Vita, a marketing company that sold vitamins and cosmetics.
Trinity's president, Ole Anthony, claims Robertson improperly used his tax-exempt, nonprofit ministry to market his shake on his show and CBN's Web site.
"It wouldn't exist unless it was promoted on the donor-paid-for airtime," Anthony told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.
Robertson, a former presidential candidate, introduced "Pat's Age-Defying Shake" to viewers in August 2001. Robertson, 75, says 1.5 million people have requested the recipe, which includes safflower oil, protein powder and vinegar.
One of those was Phil Busch, 41, a bodybuilder, fitness trainer and motivational speaker from Dallas.
Busch said he weighed 410 pounds before he decided to give Robertson's shake a try in 2003. Busch said he combined the twice-daily shakes with an extensive exercise regimen to lose 198 in 15 months.
When Robertson advertised a 12-week Weight Loss Challenge on "The 700 Club" this spring, Busch sent in before-and-after pictures of himself.
In July, Busch appeared on "The 700 Club" and his pictures began being used in commercials for the shake recipe. Just before his appearance, Busch learned that Robertson's shakes were being sold at GNC under the name "Pat's Diet Shake" for $21.99 for nine servings.
Busch called the shakes "essential" on the show, and added, "Matter of fact, now I just go to the GNC and get the weight-loss shake."
Busch said representatives of Robertson's organization led him to believe he might be able to get a contract as the shake's national spokesman, but instead the job was given to Pittsburgh bodybuilder Dave Hawk, a former Mr. USA and Mr. World who's affiliated with GNC.
"I sent in the pictures just so he can inspire the viewers of 'The 700 Club,' and he ran to the GNC and made this a national product and told nobody, not even me," Busch said in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press. "And now this stuff is flying off the shelves."
Busch said he is exploring legal action against Robertson for continuing to use his pictures to advertise the shakes. He also said he filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue System on Friday.
But Robertson's attorney, Louis A. Isakoff, said in a written reply to the Pilot that Busch's allegations were "bizarre, completely untrue and sadly mistaken."
Isakoff said Busch was never promised an endorsement deal.
He said Robertson licensed his name and shake recipe to Basic Organics Inc., a Columbus, Ohio-based manufacturer that produces the product and distributes it in GNC stores.
"Dr. Robertson, as a private individual, certainly has the right to engage in personal business ventures," Isakoff wrote.
Ads for the shake have appeared immediately before the program on some stations, but Isakoff said CBN has turned down requests by Basic Organics and GNC to advertise on "The 700 Club."
Robertson's shake recipe still is available on the CBN Web site along with the disclaimer, "You can purchase health supplements and shake products from high quality health food stores, like GNC."
As for Busch, he said he won't bad-mouth the shakes.
"It tastes delicious. The bad thing is (Robertson) is a liar," Busch said. "It works tremendously, though."