Pollen supplement firm stung by $526,500 fine for false “made in New Zealand” labelling claim

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

There was no way consumers could tell the Chinese origin of the pollen from the labelling, said New Zealand's Commerce Commission. ©iStock
There was no way consumers could tell the Chinese origin of the pollen from the labelling, said New Zealand's Commerce Commission. ©iStock

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A supplement company and its owner have been fined a total of NZ$526,500 for claiming the bee pollen it used was New Zealand-made, when in fact it was produced and processed in China.

Topline International Ltd (Topline) has sold pollen-based supplements under the NatureBee brand, mostly for export, since 2000.

The firm’s website states that bee pollen contains 27 vitamins and amino acids, 28 minerals, 11 enzymes or co-enzymes, 24 beneficial fatty acids and 11 carbohydrates.

It began using Chinese pollen around 2005, although it initially altered its labelling to remove any reference to New Zealand, a court heard.

But 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,”​ said New Zealand Commerce Commission commissioner Anna Rawlings.

Highest fine

Last week Topline director Jeffrey Bernard Cook was fined $121,500 on 22 charges, and Topline was fined $405,000, also on 22 charges.

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.

In sentencing at Auckland District Court, Judge 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.”

The commission’s investigation showed that from May 31 2011 to June 2015, Topline and Mr Cook made various untrue representations, including:

• NatureBee labels stated pollen was "Made in New Zealand"

• the NatureBee website stated that the pollen was from “the hardworking bees of New Zealand’s pristine wilderness”

• NatureBee promotional material said “New Zealand bee pollen is the best quality you can buy”

• in an infomercial on Korean-language service HiTV in early 2015, Mr Cook said the pollen was “collected from the wilderness of New Zealand’s pristine South Island”

Deprived of choice

Judge Dawson said if the ‘Made in New Zealand’ label “was important to the consumers then their lack of knowledge as to the true origin of the product deprived them of the choice to not use it or to instead use other products.”

The incorrect labelling also had potential to damage all other exporters using Made in New Zealand labelling and to “damage this country’s image for its products sold overseas.”

Ms Rawlings added: “Consumers need to be able to trust these sorts of representations. Breaching that trust harms consumers, other competing businesses and New Zealand’s reputation in export markets.”

Last July the commission was also involved in a High Court case which found that NZ Nutritionals made misleading 'New Zealand made' claims about two dietary supplements

Meanwhile just last week it sent a letter to members of trade body Natural Products New Zealand emphasising the importance of this judgement and urging supplement firms who were unsure of their legal labelling obligations to take professional advice.

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