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Water war - Wisynco sues Heart Foundation over campaign against sugary beverages

Published:Tuesday | April 24, 2018 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Gleaner Writer
William Mahfood

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has described as "very unfortunate" a legal move by the William Mahfood-led Wisynco Group Limited to block the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) from repeating information it posted on social media aimed at warning Jamaicans about the dangers of excessive sugar intake.

The information was posted on Instagram last month as part of a public education campaign, dubbed 'Are You Drinking Yourself Sick'. The campaign features a number of commercials that have been airing on local television and various social media platforms since late last year.

But Winsyco has charged, in court documents obtained by The Gleaner, that the information posted on Instagram conveyed false and defamatory information about its CranWata beverage.

Consequently, the company, through its attorneys, has filed documents in the Supreme Court seeking a declaration that the information posted on Instagram is defamatory and an injunction barring the non-governmental organisation from repeating it. The application is to be heard in the Supreme Court next week, but the legal move appears to have left Tufton baffled.

"I'm not sure what is the logic, business or otherwise, for a company to pursue legal action against an NGO seeking to pursue a critical and globally recognised public-health mandate," he told The Gleaner yesterday. "This development is very unfortunate," Tufton added.

Executive director of the HFJ, Deborah Chen, could not be contacted for a comment yesterday.

Wisynco's general counsel Rachel Zacca would not confirm or deny that the company has filed legal action against the NGO when contacted by The Gleaner yesterday. But in an affidavit included among the court documents obtained by The Gleaner, Zacca requested that Wisynco's application be treated with urgency.

"The claim and application are urgent because the Instagram post complained of was published on March 1, 2018 and remains accessible by Google search in circumstances where the advertising campaign that it forms a part of is ongoing and continuing," the affidavit said.

Wisynco contends that the since-deleted Instagram post made an inaccurate claim about the volume of sugar contained in its CranWata beverage before asking the question: "Are you drinking yourself sick? Drink water instead."

Noting that the aim of the campaign is to discourage the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, the company claimed that the inaccurate information posted by HFJ is defamatory because it suggests that drinking Wisynco's products, specifically CranWata, will make them sick.

"The said words were calculated to disparage CranWata and Wisynco in its business. In consequence, CranWata's and Wisynco's reputation have been seriously damaged and the principals of Wisynco have suffered considerable distress, anxiety and embarrassment," the company asserted.