Science Media Centre’s involvement in the fat fight is folly – and it looks like propaganda too

Dunno what the bloody Science Media Centre thinks it’s up to, but Alf draws his constituents’ attention to its participation in a Maori Party political stunt.

He was alerted to these antics by a report in the Herald today saying…

A panel of experts will take part in an online seminar this morning to assess whether New Zealand should scrap GST on healthy foods.

The seminar, run by the Science Media Centre, comes ahead of the first reading of a Maori Party bill calling for GST-free healthy foods.

It will hear from a range of nutritional experts on the potential implications for the country’s public health if such a bill were to go through.

The potential implications, of course, include loss of GST revenue from foods judged to be “healthy”, and the need to hire more bureaucrats to deal with a system that will lose its simplicity, if the food fanatics have their way.

So how wide will the expert discussion be?

Remarkably narrow, really, because at time of writing only two expert speakers had been listed, both were females and both have a thing about obesity, which is a product more of gluttony – surely – than of GST.

This has got to be a joke – an expert panel that covers the gambit from A to B.

So what is the aim?

The bill’s architect, Maori Party MP Rahui Katene said she hoped the experts’ views would help with the bill’s first vote next week.

It takes precious little expertise, of course, to nut out that removing GST from some foods should make them more attractive to consumers than foods with GST.

Accordingly, if you draw up a list of “healthy” foods and remove GST, those foods should become more attractive.

You could achieve much the same thing, of course, by slapping a deterrent tax on “unhealthy” foods in the same way as is done with cigarettes.

The problem comes when you sit down to argue the toss about what foods are “healthy”.

Alf would be dismayed if a bunch of bureaucrats, encouraged by the growing army of food fanatics and obesity campaigners, put fish and chips on the list, for example. Or bacon and eggs. Or porridge with lots of sugar and cream.

He fears that’s precisely what will happen.

This is an exercise in social engineering, led by a Maori Party which claims it is preparing to introduce the bill as part of its focus on improving public health.

The bill is provisionally scheduled to receive its first reading in parliament on July 21. Alf will be voting against it.

So does the case for removing GST from some foods have anything going for it?

There’s a morsel of support.

In March this year, the Supermarket Health Options Project (SHOP) study, conducted over the space of a year and looking at the food purchasing habits of over 1,000 New Zealanders, found that dropping GST from healthy foods would encourage people to buy more healthy foods.

Countries including Australia and the United Kingdom already have no GST equivalent on certain ‘healthy’ foods.

Healthy foods are being defined by the Maori Party as including fruit and vegetables, bread and cereals, milk (but not cream) products, lean meats, and legumes.

Stop right there.

Does this mean Alf’s butcher can sell a kilo of pork chops without the GST if he trims all the fat off?

And who is to say he didn’t leave too much fat on, before he sold the goods without GST?

Oh. That must be the answer – we will employ an army of fat inspectors to roam the country’s shops and make sure GST is removed legally.

The involvement of the Science Media Centre, of course, requires (or should require) an explanation.

The dubious pretext is looking into a public health issue.

The Science Media Centre has assembled a panel of experts to discuss research into the public’s attitude to healthy foods, the SHOP study itself, and the potential implications for New Zealand’s public health of exempting healthy food from GST.

One of the experts is a Dr Cliona Ni Mhurchu, Programme Leader in Nutrition & Physical Activity at the Clinical Trials Research Unit of the University of Auckland

She is Programme Leader for Nutrition Research at the University of Auckland’s Clinical Trials Research Unit.

She has led several large research studies, including the Supermarket Healthy Options Project (SHOP), which evaluated the effectiveness of price discounts and nutrition education as strategies to promote healthier food purchases. She is Director of the Health Research Council programme, “Population Interventions to Improve Nutrition & Physical Activity”, and later this year will take up the Heart Foundation of New Zealand Senior Fellowship.

The second expert is a Bronwen King, Public Health Nutritionist at Community and Public Health, Christchurch

Bronwen has 11 years experience in her current role. She is also the former Chairperson of the Obesity Action Coalition (a strong advocate for environments that support healthy lifestyles), a writer for Healthy Food Guide Magazine, and Managing Director of Foodfit Ltd – Food and Nutrition Education and Consultation. In addition, she has been involved in other work including producing and presenting her own television series in Canterbury for 7 years, entitled “Healthy Eating”.

Alf would suggest some research be done in Canterbury to determine the impact on the region’s health, after her seven years of producing and presenting her own television series entitled “Healthy Eating”.

Nah. Don’t bother.

It’s a fair bet the impact will have been zero and Canterbury people are just as obese as other people.

By the way, we have exhausted the list of experts named at the time Alf examined it, although one person (unnamed) had yet to be confirmed.

Alf hopes this unconfirmed spokesman turns out to be someone like Parekura Horomia, because what is awfully missing from the very short list of experts is a bloke.

What’s missing, moreover, is a bloke with a fondness for good tucker, as distinct from “healthy” tucker.

Without such expertise, Alf will hold the Science Media Centre’s exercise in great contempt.

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