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Tauranga couple John and Ingrid Godwin have pleaded guilty to 19 charges of the Fair Trading Act over misleading representations of their qualifications and their ability to cure or prevent diseases.
The couple have been hit with $23,400 in total fines and costs awarded in the Tauranga District Court.
Following complaints received about John and Ingrid Godwin’s business Healing World, regarding numerous claims on their website and in an advertorial which ran in the Weekend Sun newspaper in 2005, the Commerce Commission conducted an investigation and subsequent prosecution.
The Godwins had claimed that they had cures for – or could protect against – several diseases with no known cure, including SARS, bird flu, and herpes.
The couple had claimed that their remedy for herpes was “deemed safe for use by the general public therefore they are available with or without practitioner advice”. The Commerce Commission noted that in fact, medical advice is required for the containment of the symptoms of herpes and prevention of infection to others.
Ingrid and John were also penalised for lying to the public over their qualifications.
Ingrid Godwin, while a registered nurse, has not held an Annual Practicing Certificate since 1996 - as required when advertising her nursing qualifications with services offered by Healing World.
John Godwin noted that he was endorsed by the New Zealand Institute of Isopathic Medicine Inc, an organisation that was struck off the Companies Office register in 2004 – and which he created.
“It is not the Commission’s role to decide on the efficacy of alternative health practices such as homoeopathy. However alternative medicine providers have the same obligations under the Fair Trading Act as traditional medical practitioners,” said Adrian Sparrow, Commerce Commission Director of Fair Trading.
“Any claims made must be accurate and not mislead consumers. False claims about the ability to cure or prevent diseases can not only damage the reputation of the alternative health industry, but also put consumers’ health at risk when they put their trust in products with false or exaggerated claims.”
In sentencing, Judge Ingram noted that it is notorious public knowledge that that there is no cure for conditions such as bird flu, SARS, smallpox and herpes. He also noted the Godwins provided no evidence to the Court about the efficacy of their remedies.
Court penalties for breaching the Fair Trading Act can include fines of up to $200,000 for a company and $60,000 for an individual. Only the courts can decide if a representation has breached the Act.