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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Glaxosmithkline Liebena Scandal

Some oh so familiar quotes from GSK in this news story.

Before the court case

AFTER 55 years of telling porkies, Ribena has finally sent itself to the naughty corner. But the surprise mea culpa may not save the drink's maker - and the world's second-largest pharmaceutical company - from receiving a thorough caning in a New Zealand court next week.

Generations of Australian and New Zealand children have been raised on Ribena, because that nice lady on telly told them the blackcurrants in the purple stuff contained four times the vitamin C of oranges.

But Ribena's manufacturer, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, has in effect dobbed itself in to the national competition watchdog for "allegedly misleading representations" and has already undertaken to remove all references to vitamin C on its product's label.

In a statement released by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission yesterday, the chairman, Graeme Samuel, emphasised that GlaxoSmithKline had "self-reported the discrepancies".

A matching statement by the company also emphasised the voluntary nature of its confession. The company omitted to include, however, the impetus behind its earnest and apparently voluntary bid to set the record straight.

The commission's equivalent across the Tasman, the New Zealand Commerce Commission, has been investigating GlaxoSmithKline for more than a year, and next Tuesday the company will face more than 80 charges in the Auckland District Court of allegedly making misleading representations involving Ribena.

The Herald understand the charges relate to vitamin C claims made on the packaging of Ribena ready-to-drink cartons and to vitamin C claims made in television advertising and packaging for its syrup, which has been on the market for more than five decades.

GlaxoSmithKline told the Herald late yesterday that the New Zealand investigation had been "a trigger" in its decision to approach the consumer commission here.

So had the multinational British-based pharmaceutical company - which turned a profit of more than $17 billion in the last financial year - been "allegedly misleading" its customers for the past five decades?

Absolutely not, a spokesperson said in a written statement forwarded to the Herald.

"Weight for weight, the 'four times' statement is factually correct but **we accept that there is a potential for confusion among consumers and have taken the action to remove that claim."

In January, the Herald reported an analysis of popular children's snack foods and beverages by the independent consumer watchdog Choice, which found that Ribena consisted of little more than sugar and water. Its essential ingredient - blackcurrants - made up just 5 per cent of content, the study found, and was a processed product made from concentrate.

"For years, manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline has led Australian parents to believe Ribena fruit drink was a healthy choice for kids because of its vitamin C content," said Choice's senior food policy officer, Clare Hughes.

"This is a good example of food marketing manipulating busy parents who want to provide the best for their kids."

** We accept that there is a potential for confusion among customers and have taken the action to remove that claim

Hmmm - Sounds so familiar eh?

After the court case

Food health claims under spotlight after Ribena case

The case against Ribena has heightened concerns that misleading health claims are being made for a range of foods, says marketing professor Janet Hoek.

GlaxoSmithKline was on Tuesday fined $227,500 in the Auckland District Court, for misleading claims about the levels of vitamin C in Ribena.

It was ordered to place corrective advertising in newspapers after admitting 15 breaches of the Fair Trading Act.

GlaxoSmithKline admitted that its ready-to-drink Ribena, which its labelling said contained 7mg of vitamin C per 100ml, in fact had no detectable vitamin C content.

It also admitted it might have misled customers in advertisements saying the blackcurrants in Ribena syrup had four times the vitamin C of oranges.

When properly diluted, Ribena has about 1.5 times the vitamin C of comparable orange drinks. Tests have also showed it has more sugar than Coca-Cola.

Professor Hoek said there was a danger the incident would be seen in isolation, when there were lessons to be learned.

"It doesn't take more than an educated guess to realise that other food products marketed as beneficial to health, for example by being low in fat or sugar, may also be misleadingly or deceptively labelled."

The use of health-related claims had a very clear potential to mislead and deceive consumers, she said.

"The Ribena case highlights the need for clear food labelling such as a traffic lights system, where consumers do not need to interpret complex nutrition information before making a purchase decision."

It was disturbing that schoolgirls Jenny Suo and Anna Devathasan, who did the initial tests on the product in 2004, said they were brushed off when they took their findings to the company, the Advertising Standards Authority and marketing organisation Brandpower, she said.

However, consumers were now more aware of the danger of obesity and the importance of having access to correct and easily accessible information about food.

People were exposed to many advertising claims, at least some of which they accept at face value, she said.

"Consumers become conditioned to respond to claims such as 'lite' or 'high-fibre', which imply a product is healthy when it may, for example, contain very high sugar levels.

"Marketers are adept at using puffery to imply benefits that do not exist."

She called for more research to explore how consumers accessed, used, understood and responded to health claims.

Professor Hoek has researched consumer deception and public policy issues, including the effects of food marketing on obesity, and the impact of misleading descriptions on tobacco products.

Meanwhile, Charlie's Trading Company owners Marc Ellis and Stefan Lepionka have offered Miss Devathasan and Miss Suo work experience at their juice company.

"At Charlie's we applaud honesty, so we want to give those two teenage Kiwi girls work experience at our company," Mr Ellis said.

"It took these two trustworthy teenagers to triumph over the giants of our industry and out the truth on one juice company to consumers at last.

"With other companies out there committing similar claim-crimes, we reckon these girls could make a healthy career out of it."

Charlie's had spoken to Pakuranga College to discuss the girls coming to the company.




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