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Science Fair Project Exposes GlaxoSmithKline Lies 253

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the fact-checking-advertisements dept.
shadowspar writes "Despite claims made by GlaxoSmithKline that their Ribena soft drinks are high in Vitamin C, two New Zealand high school students found in their science fair research project that at least some formulations of the drink contained no detectable levels of the vitamin. As a result, GSK has been fined over $200,000 by the NZ Commerce Commission and ordered to run newspaper ads admitting that some of their drinks contain no Vitamin C."
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Science Fair Project Exposes GlaxoSmithKline Lies

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 31, 2007 @12:51PM (#18556457)
    To think companies will put out products that we consume into
    our bodies that do not contain the ingredients listed on the
    can. Not quite the pet food disaster that happened to animals,
    but it is getting closer.

    Like i tell others, until babies die from baby food, no one
    will string the company owners up to the nearest tree.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 31, 2007 @12:53PM (#18556475)
    I'm shocked!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by asninn (1071320)
      While it's expected that advertisers lie, there is a difference between lying about hard facts and more, well, ephemeral claims. If an advertiser says "our laundry detergent is great", that's an ephemeral claim; you may dispute it, but there is no objective interpretation of what "great" means, so the advertiser is off the hook.

      FWIW, GSK probably could've gotten off the hook if there had been *some* vitamin C in the drink, too - "high in vitamin C" is also a rather ephemeral claim insofar as that it's not c
  • Old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by basic0 (182925) <mmccollow.yahoo@ca> on Saturday March 31, 2007 @12:54PM (#18556481)
    "Slashdot. News for Nerds (two weeks after AP runs it and it appears on Yahoo's front page). Stuff that mattered."
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by laggist (784355)
      the post above is not a troll.. this is really old! i've even read it on my local dailies, and my local food sciences body has just reassured everyone that GSK's ribena drink *is* indeed rich in vitamin C [channelnewsasia.com] (at least in Singapore, because we get stuff made in either Malaysia or the Philipines)..
    • It's not trolling to point out that this was news at least 10 days ago. The Age in Melbourne last updated their story [theage.com.au] on May 21, though Google indexed it there [google.com.au] on the 20th.

      Mod parent +2 Apology.

      • by causality (777677) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @02:51PM (#18557477)
        The quality of moderation has been on the decline as of late. Like the guy above who pointed this out, he was modded "Offtopic." When an article is posted,
        commenting about the article is on-topic EVEN when it's not commentary that you personally like. Anyone should be able to figure this out. It is so obvious I can't believe it has to be explained to anyone with mod points.

        Mods also need to figure out that anyone who vehemently disagrees is not "Flamebait" unless their primary purpose is to insult. But if they are using something resembling facts and logic, even if they're not G-rated nice, it's not flamebait.

        For this reason I am almost harsh when meta-moderating, which I do anytime the opportunity comes up. I am tired of this shit; shitty moderation is how you ruin a site like this and because it doesn't happen all at once and in-your-face but happens gradually over time, people don't see it this way.


        I fully expect to be modded Offtopic or Troll or Flamebait for "daring" to (again) call bullshit when I see it. My Karma is sitting at "Excellent" so do your worst and prove me right.
      • yes it is.

        Where on slashdot's banner does it say, "Accurate, Timely and Not A Dupe?"

        Sheesh.
  • HAHAHAHAHA (Score:2, Funny)

    by JackMeyhoff (1070484)
    Pwned :) GSK Executives outsmarted by 14 year olds :)
  • Brilliant. (Score:5, Funny)

    by CheeseburgerBrown (553703) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @12:57PM (#18556515) Homepage Journal
    It's nice sometimes when the stream of stories about how multinationals are reaming us is interrupted with one flavoured by just desserts.

    Also, the comeuppance is doubly sweet when it's underdogs. And who's more of an underdog than an intelligent high school student with an avid interest in science?

    In the movie version, there would be a B-plot about the nerds winning the hearts of two pretty girls through the process. Maybe the girls are interns at GSK. I don't know. Hire Charlie Kauffman.

    • Yes, I see now that they're girls. I missed that. My Fark-brain filtered it out as some advert for a calendar girls site.

    • by Walt Dismal (534799) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @01:31PM (#18556791)
      Plot summary of new movie: In "Erin Brockovich and the Operating System of Doom", Erin analyses Windows Vista and discovers it contains 98% hype and only 1% new usability. Soon, hired goons pursue her, trying to run her car off the road. A muscular Linus Torvalds, played by Vin Diesel, parachutes down unexpectedly and drops into her convertible, taking the wheel to perform spectacular stunt driving to evade the pursuers and their Stinger missiles. However, Linus and Erin are later captured and brought to the secret Washington state underground headquarters of an evil software magnate. He rocks back and forth in his chair as he strokes a white cat and boasts of his plans for world conquest through restrictive licensing and patent portfolios, and an alliance with the RIAA. In the end, Linus and Erin escape after Linus crashes the villains's servers by massively downloading emo music. In the closing scene, a massive volcanic explosion destroys Redmond because Linus has also rigged Windows Genuine Advantage to detonate every PC on campus at the same time.

      No animals were harmed in the making of this movie. Directed by Jack Thompson.

    • Comeuppance? Just desserts? Yeah, a $200,000 fine. It'll take them minutes, maybe even hours to make such a huge sum of money back. I'm sure that the next time they even think about deliberately lying to the public for decades upon decades, that fine will make them think twice!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Seumas (6865)
      This is a great example of why science should be taken out of highschools and substituted with bible study. We don't need our young people gettin' all booksmart and thinkin' they dun got themselves better than all'us in the bible belt of jebus.
  • I like their style (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JackMeyhoff (1070484) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @12:57PM (#18556519)
    "and ordered to run newspaper ads admitting that some of their drinks contain no Vitamin C" This is far more damaging to them than a 200k fine. Its like virtually stick them in the stocks and publically embarassing them. I wish more laws resulted in this for companies rather than simple fines.
    • "and ordered to run newspaper ads admitting that some of their drinks contain no Vitamin C" This is far more damaging to them than a 200k fine.

      Pfft. Dude, the 80's called and they want their punishment back.

      No, they should be forced to blog about their crime in a fashion that speaks to their target base:

      LyK oMg, I aM jUsT gOiNg ThRu TeH hArDeSt TiMe Of My LyF...gOt nO C n Mi dRnKS!!1!!1!
  • And.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tilzs (959354) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @01:05PM (#18556587)
    I would've gotten away with it if it hadn't been for those meddling kids.
    • Kudos to the kids for discovering this... but why the frak did it take a school science project to figure out the ingredients weren't as advertised?

      • by man_ls (248470)
        Probably because chemical testing of soft drinks, while something that readily comes to mind, isn't actually likely to be done. The consumer product safety commission or whatever, relies on certified statements of contents and penalties if they are in fact incorrect. The public trusts the consumer watchdog.

        Real chemists have better things to do with their time in most cases, and the general public doesn't have the skill...so really, the high school kids are perfectly primed to discover this sort of thing. T
    • Damn, you beat me to it. I think we need a "meddlingkids" tag. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 31, 2007 @01:09PM (#18556607)
    I heard an interview with one of the girls. When they first tried to contact the company, they were stonewalled so they started contacting other people and the next thing they knew was they were on the international news.

    For a company to ignore even fourteen year olds and hope they will just go away is really dumb. Better to deal with the problem before it gets big.

    Anyway, what I understood the company to have said was something like: "The berries that this product is made from have more vitamin C than orange juice." The problem being, of course, that none of the vitamin C made it into the product.
  • Only $200k? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 15Bit (940730) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @01:10PM (#18556617)
    They've been selling Ribena for decades under the advertising that it was high in vitamin C. Hell, my grandma used to tell us to drink it. So unless this is a new zealand local recipe thats at fault, i'm sorry, but an inconsequential fine and an apology in a newspaper in a country of 4.1m people really isn't enough - they've been deceiving the purchasing public in several countries for a long time.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      They've been selling Ribena for decades under the advertising that it was high in vitamin C. Hell, my grandma used to tell us to drink it.

            Now the other side of the coin is that Vitamin C is one of the most overhyped vitamins ever. Small amounts are neccessary for the production of healthy tissue, and that's about it. There is no medical evidence that it helps prevent or cure colds, etc. And a balanced diet provides more than enough Vitamin C.
      • This is one of my favorites:

        http://www.brachs.com/products/product.asp?base_co de=171 [brachs.com]

        Brach's sells candy as a health food because they used some Vitamin C to add tartness. I actually saw a package in the store a few months ago with big writing saying "Vitamin C!", "NO FAT!".
      • Re:Only $200k? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Dun Malg (230075) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @03:47PM (#18557985) Homepage

        Now the other side of the coin is that Vitamin C is one of the most overhyped vitamins ever. Small amounts are neccessary for the production of healthy tissue, and that's about it. There is no medical evidence that it helps prevent or cure colds, etc. And a balanced diet provides more than enough Vitamin C.
        That depends entirely on your definition of "enough". The USRDA of 60mg a day is just enough to prevent scurvy. The problem with vitamin C is that because it isn't a patentable drug, very little research is done beyond the occasional study of the classic wive's tales about it curing colds and such. When you look at the animal kingdom and vitamin C, you can't help but question the 60mg USRDA. Most animals produce their own vitamin C, and only a very few do not. The biological process for making vitamin C from glucose requires four enzymes. Primates (which includes us) share a damaged gene for producing the fourth enzyme. We have the other three, but because we lack the fourth, the incomplete product of the third enzyme is simply broken down and recycled. Only primates, guinea pigs, red vented bulbul birds, channel catfish, and Indian fruit-eating bats require dietary vitamin C--- and in all cases this is traceable to a genetic mutation breaking the enzyme chain that originally allowed them to produce it from glucose. So the question then becomes, "how much vitamin C would we be producing internally if the enzyme chain were intact?" Well, an examination of vitamin C producing mammals indicates that a healthy animal produces and average of anywhere from 50 to 300mg per kg per day, and an animal with a serious illness will generate anywhere from 10 to 50 times that amount. Even taking the low average, it sure seems like a 150kg man should be getting 7500mg per day rather than 90mg, and that doesn't even take into account how you'd need to take 15000mg orally to equal 7500mg self-produced because the digestive system destroys half of it in the absorption process.

        See, before we even get to the possible benefits of vitamin C, we already have good reason to believe 90mg/day is an unnaturally low number. We, as a species, suffer from hypoascorbia due to a genetic defect. The fact that it hasn't killed us doesn't mean it's healthy. Not all mutations are good. If vitamin C is so inconsequential, why did all animal life evolve to produce so much of it?
      • Dunbal>>> "There is no medical evidence that it helps prevent or cure colds, etc."

        The BBC reported a year or more ago that the latest research suggests that supplements can reduce the duration of a cold once you've got it but don't do anything for prevention - my current use of Vit.C follows this, I take on orange juice and citrus fruit when I have a cold and occassionally even have tablets.

        Member of the Finnish DOH and an epidemiology expert >>>"Duration of cold episodes that occurred dur
  • Next... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Linker3000 (626634) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @01:10PM (#18556619) Journal
    Rumours also abound over the amount of cocaine in 'coke'. There may be no mountains or dew in Mountain Dew and no pepper in Dr Pepper. The manufacturers of the French beverage Pschitt [pschitt.fr] were unavailable for comment.

    PS: Visit the Pschitt site - the intro's a riot!

    • by VValdo (10446)
      Rumours also abound over the amount of cocaine in 'coke'. There may be no mountains or dew in Mountain Dew and no pepper in Dr Pepper.

      So long as I'm getting my daily minimum of grapes and nuts from Grape Nuts, I don't see the problem...

      W
    • There may be no mountains or dew in Mountain Dew

      There is, however, orange juice. I remember the moment I saw this on the can as a kid. It totally ruined the drink for me.
    • How Naive would you have to be to drink Pschitt?
  • by Yurka (468420) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @01:20PM (#18556705) Homepage
    Ascorbic acid costs literally pennies; you can pick up a pound of the stuff retail at less than 15 dollars, and we're talking 7 milligrams in each bottle. What the heck were they thinking?
    • by kestasjk (933987) * on Saturday March 31, 2007 @02:07PM (#18557099) Homepage
      Basically in the early 1990's Ribena corporation realized that their profits were declining to the soda giant Schweppes, and because of all the money they wasted on ads with a black man dressed in purple who squeezed Ribena drinks, who's catchphase was "Ribena. Squeeze it."
      They discovered that Ribena was only ever consumed when force-fed to children by parents, or to OAPs by their caretakers; no-one was drinking it out of their own free will anymore.

      When Schweppes began hinting that they were developing their own water flavoring syrup which wouldn't taste like dentist mouth-wash Ribena corp adopted a policy of aggressively closing the target market.

      This is why Ribena is marketed as a teeth friendly drink, containing your daily vitamin-C requirement; Ribena want to give as many children ruined smiles and scurvy as possible. They hope that no-one will notice only Ribena drinkers are getting scurvy, and thus that more people will start drinking vitamin-C rich Ribena in an effort to combat the ensuing scurvy plague.
      • by sholden (12227)
        Yes, but why did they decide to not put the $0.0025 worth of vitamin C in the damn drink? They managed to do that in other countries it would seem...
    • by argStyopa (232550)
      That they'd get away with it?
  • Better not let those kids near our Slurm factory! "It's highly addictive!"
  • by way2trivial (601132) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @01:25PM (#18556747) Homepage Journal
    free glaxo kline samples!

  • Article 1: the pair says the corrective advertising is a positive result.

    "I think it's good that they at least admitted it and didn't try and say we were still wrong," Jenny [Suo] says.


    Article 2: The two girls said they were pleased with the sentence, but thought the company should have been ordered to run TV ads as well, they told the New Zealand Herald.

    Kids and parents are more likely to see television ads, [Jenny] Suo said.


    I imagine if you read another 3 or 4 articles, various other details will come tog
  • CEOs should have to sign off on the known effects, content and safety of their products. Including alcohol, medication, supplements and cigarettes.

    Jail time should be automatic for lying.

  • We need more (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JohnnyGTO (102952) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @01:33PM (#18556803) Homepage
    of these kids and we need to really need to get our sorry asses in gear and stress more sciences in school. We really will be saved by our youth.
  • 1. Make a product. 2. Lie to consumers by making false claims. 3. Make millions/billions in revenue and profits. 4. Executives laugh at the fine imposed and gladly pay $200,000 fine. 5. Pull product off shelves. 6. Profit! 7. Goto line 1 next quarter!
    • Yes, but how much did they actually make by not including the vitamin C? 7mg of ascorbic acid costs a tiny fraction of a cent. Even in high quantities of sale, I doubt they saved anywhere near what this is costing them.
  • Neither article says how they did it. I'm assuming they did a simple titration, like undergraduate General Chemistry teaches?
  • 1) Drink Ribena as your only source of Vitamin C

    2) get scurvy

    3) PROFIT!!!!
  • What amazes me is how they found out the amount vitamin C in a product. I was pretty good in science when I was in Gr. 10, but I still have no idea how to find out the amount of vitamin C in a product.
    Any ideas?
  • by ernest.cunningham (972490) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @05:55PM (#18559595) Homepage
    Vitamin C is destroyed when it is exposed to air. When fruit is turned into juice it is always exposed to air. Most fruit juices you buy from the supermarket that do have vitamin c, it is usually added to the juice just prior to bottling. So it is not entirely unexpected Ribena has little vitamin c content. However that does not make it right to mislead consumers. The Commerce Commission fined GlaxoSmithKline only $200k, basically to cover court costs etc, but let the consumers decide the real fine to GlaxoSmithKline by making them take out the advertisements. So it is up to you who are reading this to determine if you are going to fine GlaxoSmithKline by not purchasing their product. More alarming to me is that small bottles of sparkling Ribena contain very little if any vitamin C, but they do contain 11 teaspoons of sugar, which is 40% more than a bottle of Coke. This is what we all feed our children! Not any more.
  • by tkrotchko (124118) * on Saturday March 31, 2007 @06:08PM (#18559763) Homepage
    They could have augmented the juice with Vitamin C for basically nothing. I'm really surprised they've let the brand name be destroyed to save a few pennies.

    Sounds like a bureaucracy at it's finest.

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