New Zealand Law Society - False bee pollen claims result in fines

False bee pollen claims result in fines

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Health supplement company Topline International Ltd and its owner Jeffrey Bernard Cook have been fined a total of $526,500 in the Auckland District Court for breaches of the Fair Trading Act 1986 by claiming Chinese produced and processed bee pollen was New Zealand-made.

In Commerce Commission v Topline International Ltd [2017] NZDC 9221 (18 May 2017), Judge NR Dawson said the untrue statements "are blatant fabrications and lies" which cannot be downplayed to a mistake or to any confusion.

"The defendants need to be held accountable for their blatantly misleading and knowingly untruthful promotion of their product. Deterrence must be a principal sentencing factor and consequences need to be imposed to discourage commercially unethical behaviour. Denunciation is also required for the potential damage to the ‘MADE IN NEW ZEALAND’ brand,” Judge Dawson said.

Mr Cook is a director and the principal shareholder of Topline International Ltd (Topline), which sold pollen under the NatureBee brand, mostly for export.

Mr Cook was fined $121,500 on 22 charges, and Topline was fined $405,000, also on 22 charges.

The Commerce Commission says the fine against Mr Cook is among the highest fines imposed under the Fair Trading Act against a director. The sentences included discounts for Topline and Cook's co-operation and guilty pleas.

“Topline’s promotional material attempted to take advantage of New Zealand’s ‘clean green’ reputation, and it went on for four years. Topline only stopped mis-labelling NatureBee products when it became aware the Commission was investigating,” says Commissioner Anna Rawlings.

Topline has sold NatureBee potentiated pollen since 2000. Potentiation is a process Topline and others claim makes the pollen more digestible for humans, by partially crushing it.  

“Initially, Topline sold bee pollen which was accurately described as coming from New Zealand. Around 2005 Topline began using Chinese pollen and it altered its labelling to remove any reference to New Zealand. Then in 2011 the New Zealand-made claim was added back to the NatureBee labelling, although the pollen continued to be sourced from China. It was simply untrue that the products were New Zealand-made and there was no way consumers could tell the Chinese origin of the pollen from the labelling,” Ms Rawlings says.

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