Bee- prod­uct com­pany stung $ 526,000 for ‘ NZ- made’ claims

Weekend Herald - - NEWS - Holly Ryan holly. ryan@ nzher­ald. co. nz

A health sup­ple­ment com­pany and its owner have been fined $ 526,500 for sell­ing “New Zealand made” bee pollen which was ac­tu­ally pro­duced in China.

To­pline In­ter­na­tional, which sold pollen un­der the Na­tureBee brand, mostly for ex­port, was fined $ 405,000 on 22 charges, with its di­rec­tor and prin­ci­pal share­holder Jef­frey Bernard Cook fined $ 121,500 on 22 charges.

The Com­merce Com­mis­sion noted that in sen­tenc­ing in the Auck­land Dis­trict Court, Judge Nevin Daw­son said, “the un­true state­ments are bla­tant fab­ri­ca­tions and lies”, and that the de­fen­dants needed to be “held ac­count­able for their bla­tantly mis­lead­ing and know­ingly un­truth­ful pro­mo­tion of their prod­uct”.

Cook’s fine was among the high­est im­posed un­der the Fair Trad­ing Act against a di­rec­tor.

The sen­tences in­cluded dis­counts for To­pline and Cook’s co- oper­a­tion and guilty pleas.

Com­mis­sioner Anna Rawl­ings said To­pline’s prod­uct was ini­tially from New Zealand.

Around 2005, the com­pany be­gan us­ing Chi­nese pollen and al­tered its la­bel to re­move the New Zealand ref- er­ence. In 2011, how­ever, the New Zealand- made claim was added back to its la­bel, de­spite the prod­uct con­tin­u­ing 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,” Rawl­ings said.

The com­mis­sion’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion found a num­ber of mis­lead­ing claims and rep­re­sen­ta­tions made by To­pline. These in­cluded claims the pollen was made in New Zealand, that it was from “the hard­work­ing bees of New Zealand’s pris­tine wilder­ness”, that it was col­lected from New Zealand’s South Is­land and that New Zealand bee pollen was the best qual­ity you could buy.

“To­pline’s pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial at­tempted to take ad­van­tage of New Zealand’s ‘ clean green’ rep­u­ta­tion . . . for four years,” Rawl­ings said. “To­pline only stopped mis- la­belling Na­tureBee prod­ucts when it [ learned] the com­mis­sion was in­ves­ti­gat­ing.”

Judge Daw­son said the in­cor­rect la­belling had po­ten­tial to dam­age all other ex­porters us­ing made- in- New Zealand la­belling and could dam­age the coun­try’s im­age for its prod­ucts sold over­seas.

Rawl­ings said con­sumers needed to be able to trust la­bels and rep­re­sen­ta­tions from com­pa­nies.

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