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Thirst for knowledge leads to court

Published: 6:21PM Saturday March 24, 2007 Source: One News

Two Auckland schoolgirls have taken on one of the world's most powerful food and drug companies and won.

A school science experiment has led to GlaxoSmithKline being prosecuted for allegedly misleading consumers about the vitamin c content of Ribena.

Pakuranga College students Jenny Suo and Anna Devathasen say they are not sure how to answer when asked what it feels like to take down a major company.

Three years ago Suo and Devanthasen tested the vitamin c content of several popular fruit drinks in a school experiment.

"Ribena was the second lowest out of eight juices we tested and we were sure that we'd done it wrong," Devathasen says.

The girls repeated the test several times but kept getting the same result.

But when they told GlaxoSmithKline that Ribena didn't contain the vitamin c they claimed it did, the company brushed them off.

"They kind of didn't take us very seriously because we were 14 at the time...we were really little," says Suo.

The girls went to Fair Go with their information but GlaxoSmithKline said its advertising has appeared worldwide for more than a decade and all Ribena products boldly highlight the correct vitamin c content.

However Larraine Barton from the science faculty at Pakuranga College was impressed with what the students had discovered and encouraged them to take it further.

"I just thought it was amazing. I thought of all the false advertising claims, and I thought go get "em girls."

The students went to the Commerce Commission and that has led to the company being prosecuted for misleading the public about Ribena.

"If they'd sorted it out with us at the beginning, this wouldn't have happened," they said.

And despite winning a school science medal the 17-year-old whistleblowers are looking at other careers. Suo wants to get into advertising and Devathasen is interested in a law career.

GlaxoSmithKline are due to appear in court next Tuesday. They face a maximum fine of $3 million.