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Supplement firm fined for claiming Chinese product was NZ-made

"New Zealand-made" pollen actually came from China.

A health supplement company and its owner have been fined $526,500 after claiming bee pollen was New Zealand-made when it was actually produced and processed in China.

The pollen was sold under the NatureBee brand by Topline International, run by Jeffrey Cook.

Topline had sold 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," said Commerce Commissioner Anna Rawlings.

READ MORE: When is 'New Zealand made' not really NZ made?

"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."

NatureBee is distributed by Topline.

Labels said the pollen was made in New Zealand, the NatureBee website said it was made by "hardworking bees of New Zealand's pristine wilderness" and an infomercial on television said the pollen was collected in the South Island.

In the Auckland District Court, Judge Nevin Dawson said the statements were blatant fabrications and lies, and the defendants needed to be held accountable for blatantly misleading and knowingly untruthful promotion of their product.

Cook was fined $121,500 and Topline $405,000.

The fines imposed on Cook were the highest handed down under the Fair Trading Act against a director.

"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," Rawlings said.

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."