Second Convictions For Probitas Fertiliser
Second Convictions For False And Misleading Claims About Probitas Fertiliser
A Waihi-based company that makes a fertiliser product has been convicted and fined for a second time for making misleading claims under the Fair Trading Act.
Probitas Limited and its director Ewan Campbell were each fined $10,000 and ordered to pay $2,520 in costs in the Auckland District Court on Friday 30 November. They were found guilty on four charges under the Fair Trading Act in relation to false and misleading representations about the claimed mode of action and some of the alleged benefits of the product Probitas. The representations were made in a video presentation which promoted the product Probitas to farmers.
Probitas Limited and Ewan Campbell formulate and sell the Probitas fertiliser nationwide. Probitas consists of natural ingredients including sea clays, soft shell-based lime, paramagnetic rock and iron sand. Farmers and horticulturists pay $300 - $350 per tonne for Probitas, which Mr Campbell told them would activate the electrical and magnetic processes in the soil.
But an expert witness told the Court there was no scientific basis for the way Probitas was supposed to work. Judge Callander commended the evidence of independent expert witness Dr Doug Edmeades stating that he accepted that Dr Edmeades is a pre-eminent soil scientist with a wealth of experience. The Judge noted the implausible claims made by Mr Campbell on the video and stated that the evidence "destroys each of the primary arguments advanced on the video piece by piece".
Earlier this year Probitas Limited was fined $200,000 and Ewan Campbell $60,000 for making similar claims in brochures, on a promotional CD and in person. The charges dealt with in this latest hearing were not dealt with earlier as Probitas Limited and Mr Campbell declined to have all charges heard together. Probitas Limited and Mr Campbell failed to appear at this second hearing and a formal proof hearing was held.
Judge Callander, who also presided over the first trial, noted that the video is a particularly powerful form of advertising and included a degree of scare mongering. He concluded by saying that there is no argument that this product does not do what it purports to do and that the claims made for it are false and misleading.
Commerce Commission Chair Paula Rebstock said,"The fertiliser industry is a very important part of the New Zealand economy. It is crucial that farmers can trust the claims made about fertiliser. It is a major cost in their business, and they need to know they are getting what they are promised."
"Although Probitas Limited and Mr Campbell have criticised the Commission for taking this prosecution, the Commission has now twice established to the satisfaction of the court that the product does not work as claimed. It is also noteworthy that at neither hearing has Probitas Limited or Mr Campbell presented any scientific evidence to support the claims they make about the product," says Ms Rebstock.
New Zealand farmers spend
$1billion annually on fertiliser. The average cost of super
phosphate, the most widely used basic fertiliser, is about
$200 per tonne.
The Commission initiated its investigation into Probitas in 2003 after a complaint from a scientist who was concerned about the implausibility of the claims being made about the product that scientist was not Dr Doug Edmeades.
Ewan Campbell declined to cooperate with the investigation.
Dr Doug Edmeades is a soil scientist with over 30 years experience. Formerly a scientist, then Group Leader of Soils and Fertiliser Group at the MAF, Dr Edmeades went on to be National Science Leader, Soils and Fertiliser at AgResearch. In 1998 he formed his own independent consultancy, AgKnowledge Ltd, and advises clients on fertiliser, soil conditioners and soil additives.