Water filter developer fined $162,000 for failing to back up its claims

Kiwipure Limited has been fined $162,000 for making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits and effectiveness of its magnetic water filtration system. It was the first defended case in New Zealand against a trader accused of making unsubstantiated representations.

Kiwipure was found guilty on seven charges under the Fair Trading Act 1986 for conduct that occurred between 2015 and 2018.

Kiwipure claimed the benefits of its “world’s first” magnetic water filtration system were “scientifically proven”. However, it did not test its product using reliable scientific methods; instead it relied on anecdotal evidence and assumptions when making the claims.

Kiwipure claimed that:

  • A magnetic ‘virtual ionizer’ in its water filtration system softened water.
  • The benefits that consumers could expect of soft water after using the water filter, were ‘no scum build up’, ‘use less washing powder’ and ‘no scale build-up in hot water systems and pipes saves electricity and maintenance.’
  • Use of the water filter would lead to a “reduction in skin irritations and eczema”.

In sentencing in the Auckland District Court Judge Gibson said: “There was a reasonably high degree of carelessness” and “the need to have the product scientifically tested ought to have been obvious and there was a conscious decision not to do that”.

Commission Chair Anna Rawlings said this case is an important precedent for the Commission.

“Businesses must be able to back up any advertising claims they make about goods and services at the time they are making them. This means having evidence, research, test results, consumer surveys or similar credible information to demonstrate that their claims have a solid foundation. Traders are not permitted to advertise using guesses, supposition, anecdotal evidence, assumptions and unsupported opinions.”

“Consumers are entitled to rely on trader claims when making purchasing decisions. This is especially true when customers cannot test or establish the truth of claims for themselves, like in this case where Kiwipure claimed that scientific processes existed by which magnets could treat tap water and improve health outcomes. If you can’t back it up – don’t say it,” said Ms Rawlings.

Background

Kiwipure was incorporated in New Zealand in 2006. It developed and distributed household water filtration systems that utilised magnets. Since 2011 Kiwipure has wholesaled and, later, directly retailed the water filter to consumers, predominantly through its website.

HRV fined over water filter claims

In October 2018, HRV Clean Water Limited (HRV) was fined $440,000 after pleading guilty to making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of the Kiwipure water filters and for making misleading claims about the quality of New Zealand’s home water supply.

Hard water versus soft water

Hard water is the term used to describe water containing high levels of minerals. When water contains high levels of minerals, it tends to deposit these minerals onto surfaces – often referred to as “scale”. Hard water can also make soap form a scum on surfaces. Conventional methods of treating hard water (reverse osmosis and ion exchange) involve removing the minerals from water which cause it to be hard. The result is softer water and reduced scale, or scum build up.

If you can’t back it up, don’t say it

Consumers need to be able to rely on the accuracy of claims. It is an offence for a trader to make a claim about a good or service without reasonable grounds for doing so. You can watch our video If you can’t back it up, don’t say it and see more about unsubstantiated representations here.

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