Monsanto Roundup Lawsuit

Friday, June 05, 2009

Remember GSK's Larry Liebena?

Remember the Ribena scandal a couple of years ago?

Two New Zealand schoolgirls humbled one of the world's biggest food and drugs companies after their school science experiment found that their ready-to-drink Ribena contained almost no trace of vitamin C.

Students Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo tested the blackcurrant cordial against rival brands to test their hypothesis that cheaper brands were less healthy.

Instead, their tests found that the Ribena contained a tiny amount of vitamin C, while another brand's orange juice drink contained almost four times more.

I've just found an interesting transcript of a radio interview with the two students.

TONY EASTLEY: One of the world's most powerful food and drug companies, GlaxoSmithKline is being prosecuted across the Tasman for allegedly misleading consumers about the vitamin C content of the blackcurrant fruit drink Ribena.

New Zealand Correspondent Peter Lewis reports on the unintended consequence of two students' perseverance and their thirst for knowledge.

PETER LEWIS: For these high school kids, it was sweet vindication after three years of being fobbed off by a corporate giant.

STUDENT: We were in a juice phase, and we were like let's test juice for our science fair just because it's fun.

STUDENT 2: Yeah, we didn't even ... we never did it seriously.

STUDENT: No, we just kind of like drinking the juice, doing it...

STUDENT 2: Playing around and just stumbled upon it.

PETER LEWIS: Like a lot of consumers, Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo had grown up assuming Ribena was chock full of vitamin C. But when they carried out a simple test, it turned out the blackcurrant syrup drink wasn't what it was cracked up to be.

STUDENT: Well, Ribena was the second lowest out of eight juices we tested and we
were sure that we had done it wrong.

STUDENT 2: Yeah, we tested it so many times...

STUDENT: It was just like oh, this can't be right, we'll do it again. And then finally we came to the conclusion that it was actually low compared to everything.

PETER LEWIS: Larraine Barton is Head of Science at their school, Pakuranga College in Auckland.

LARRAINE BARTON: I just couldn't believe they'd never picked up before, that no one had ever tested it, no one had ever verified their claim, and I thought of all the false advertising claims and I thought, "Go get 'em girls, go get em".

STUDENT: We sent them a letter and an email and they never replied.

STUDENT 2: They kind of ... they didn't take us very seriously because we were 14 at the time.

LARRAINE BARTON: I thought they were just trying to fob the girls off. I thought they'll just brush it under the carpet and nothing more will come of it. But our girls were a bit more astute than that and they knew that they'd exposed something really significant.

(Sound of a TVNZ news headline)

REPORTER: Two South Auckland schoolgirls have taken on one of the world's most powerful food and drug companies and won. GlaxoSmithKline is being prosecuted for allegedly...

STUDENT: Suddenly, it was on the news...

STUDENT 2: We saw it on the news and...

STUDENT: ... and we're like, "whoah".

STUDENT 2: Yeah, the thing is nobody told us anything. We saw it on the news first and that's when we contacted the Commerce Commission again. Then they said, "Oh, all this stuff has come up. I was meaning to tell you. (laughs)

PETER LEWIS: No one is laughing at GlaxoSmithKline though. The company has admitted to Australia's corporate watchdog, the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) that its marketing was misleading and its given an undertaking to explain the true nutritional makeup of Ribena on its packaging, its website and in future advertising.

And tomorrow the company's New Zealand subsidiary will be in court facing 15 similar charges brought by the ACCC's counterpart, the Commerce Commission, which carry a penalty of up to $3 million in fines. [1]

STUDENT 2: Yeah, and a lot of people are saying, "How does it feel that you took down a major company" and...

STUDENT: Every time I see the new Ribena ad, the one where they don't mention any vitamin C, I'm just like, "Oh, yeah".

TONY EASTLEY: A couple of bright science students ending that report from New Zealand Correspondent Peter Lewis.


[1] GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), an international leading healthcare company second only to Pfizer, pleaded guilty to all 15 charges laid against them by New Zealand's Commerce Commission in Auckland's District Court. GSK did, however, fight the expected fine of up to $350,000 and corrective advertisements, proposing instead a $60,000 fine with no corrective advertisements. In the end, they were fined $217,000 for their breaches of New Zealand's fair trading act, and will have to publish correcting advertisements.

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