It’s official: Wellness blogger Belle Gibson deceptively earned $1 million after claiming that “clean eating” cured a cancer she didn’t have.
Last month the Federal Court in Melbourne imposed fines totalling $410,000.00 for five (5) separate contraventions of the Australian Consumer Law Act. The Court found that Ms Gibson misled her readers when she claimed her brain cancer was cured through alternative therapies and nutrition. It was later revealed that she never had the disease!
The Court also heard Ms Gibson made false claims about donating a large portion of her profits to charities. This included failure to donate the proceeds of her app sales to the family of Joshua Schwartz, a boy who had an inoperable brain tumour. Justice Mortimer described the failure to donate to the Schwartz family as the “most serious” contravention of the law. “Ms Gibson expressly compared the terrible circumstances of young Joshua to her own, asserting she had the same kind of tumour as he did; a statement which was completely false,” said Justice Mortimer.
The civil case was started in June, 2016 following an investigation by Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV).
In a separate, yet related case, the publisher of Gibson’s cook book, Penguin Australia was last year fined $30,000.00 (which was donated to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund) for not fact-checking Gibson’s claims. Penguin sold and promoted the book by “making false and misleading representations”, and the book was pulled from the shelves in March 2015.
This is the first part of two articles on the topic of food consumer fraud. Next week we look at potential measures to reduce food fraud including DNA bar-coding which allows researchers to identify any species by its generic make up so that products like fish, meat and fresh produce could be assessed.
Written by Mitchell Clark – Partner at MBA Lawyers