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Herald on sugar

Summary:
Kudos to Boyd Swinburn and the usual anti-sugar folks for getting this wonderful piece of advocacy published in the Herald as journalism rather than advertorial or op-ed. I'm cancelling my subscription to the Herald and asking for a refund of the balance of my annual subscription fee, but that's a bit beside the point. Swinburn et al have done a great job here with cheer-leading reporter Luke Kirkness. Here we go. "I've finished pulling teeth today, my right hand's actually sore I pulled out so many."Those are the harrowing words of New Zealand dentist Dr Rob Beaglehole who is urging the Government to take action and tax sugary drinks.The problem is so extreme more than million is spent each year anaesthetising Kiwi children so they can undergo tooth removals as a consequence of

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Kudos to Boyd Swinburn and the usual anti-sugar folks for getting this wonderful piece of advocacy published in the Herald as journalism rather than advertorial or op-ed. I'm cancelling my subscription to the Herald and asking for a refund of the balance of my annual subscription fee, but that's a bit beside the point. Swinburn et al have done a great job here with cheer-leading reporter Luke Kirkness.

Here we go.
"I've finished pulling teeth today, my right hand's actually sore I pulled out so many."

Those are the harrowing words of New Zealand dentist Dr Rob Beaglehole who is urging the Government to take action and tax sugary drinks.

The problem is so extreme more than $20 million is spent each year anaesthetising Kiwi children so they can undergo tooth removals as a consequence of consuming sugary drinks.

And today, a petition has been launched in an effort to convince the Government to introduce a tax on sugary drinks.

But the current Labour-led Government and Health Minister Dr David Clark have no plans for such a tax.

Excellent heroic-dentist versus uncaring-government framing.
"The Government needs to modify the environment that we're living in," Beaglehole, the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA) spokesman, said.

"We've had enough of Coca-Cola, McDonald's and other junk food companies selling this sickness to our kids.

"They keep getting away with it ... we need to make the healthy choice the easy choice."

Beaglehole told the Herald last night the NZDA backed the petition but the Government should go further than just implementing a tax.

University of Auckland academic Dr Gerhard Sundborn, on behalf of The New Zealand Beverage Guidance Panel, is behind the latest petition.

Calls for a sugary drinks tax aren't new he said. One with 10,000 signatures was presented in August 2017 but largely ignored by politicians.

"It was extraordinary that this earlier call to tax sugary drinks ... was snubbed by the then Minister of Health, and by both major parties," he said.

Getting the journalist to fail to follow up with the Ministry, or to check in on whether the Ministry has done prior work on sugar taxes - again, excellent work. Those interested can read NZIER's comprehensive review of the prior five years' published literature on the topic - commissioned by the Ministry of Health. But the journalist isn't interested. At least Newshub's reporting covered that part. Like, you might think that a journalist would wonder why the Ministry has been sceptical.
"NZDA has estimated that we spend more than $20 million every year to anaesthetise children so they can undergo multiple tooth extractions as a consequence of consuming sugary drinks.

"We must find more ways to address these issues."

The Panel, made up of researchers from a range of fields including public health, medicine and marketing, suggests a targeted tax on sugar should be top-priority to tackle the country's interconnected issues with obesity, type 2 diabetes and rotten teeth.

Really? The dentists have been able to sort out what proportion of extractions are due to sugary drinks and what proportion comes down to other stuff and what comes down to a combination of factors including never brushing one's teeth? This is amazing. I'd love to see that research and see how they established it. The journalist wasn't interested, but I am.

I know I'm blockquoting the whole article here, but I don't feel too bad about it. Here's the press release from the New Zealand Beverage Guidance Panel, and much of the article is a paraphrase of it.

Who is the Guidance Council anyway? This Stuff article (no paywall, better journalism) from 2017 says it was set up by FIZZ - an anti-soda advocacy group. This isn't some neutral bunch of nutritionists - it is an anti-soda advocacy group. This brief says they were modelled on the US Beverage Guidance Panel, "The intention of the panel was to develop guidance to government and community groups to limit the intake of sugary drinks." So: Panel established to fight soda consumption argues for sugar tax.

Let's move on.

The Health Minister agrees but in a statement to the Herald he said the Government had no plans for a sugar tax, as he had "consistently said".

"We need to reduce sugar levels in our processed food and drink, and develop a better food labelling system," Clark said.

"I have met several times with the food industry and set out the clear expectation that business and the Government will work together on this issue."

In September, the Herald reported Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was told a sugar tax would generate millions in revenue and save lives.

Ardern was briefed on a potential tax by the Ministry of Health's chief science adviser Dr John Potter at her request.

Potter said a tax of 20 per cent had been shown to work but should be based on volume or sugar content, not value of the product.

"Reduction of consumption via a tax will probably be greatest among the households with the lowest disposable income. In New Zealand, Māori and Pacific will benefit strongly," he said.

Potter did send that memo: 16 February 2018.

It was two-pages of unreferenced bullet points.

It made no mention of the comprehensive NZIER report on the effects of sugar taxes, which Potter had received on 15 August 2017 and which was publicly released, finally, after much prodding from me, on 31 January 2018: two weeks before Potter's memo.

The NZIER report was covered in the Herald on 2 February, by Newsroom on 7 February, and even in the Toronto Globe and Mail on 12 February. If Potter missed it in August, you would think that the Ministry of Health's Chief Science Advisor just might have noticed extensive media coverage of an important report in his brief during the fortnight before he provided his memo. It surely would also have come up in discussions within the Ministry between April and February.

Potter's failure to mention it, and providing advice concluding the opposite of the Ministry's comprehensive commissioned report, could reasonably be characterised as Potter, the Chief Science Advisor in Health, having misled the Prime Minister.

See, if you expect reporters to either know their beat or to ask people who do know the area, you'll be a bit disappointed in the Herald article by now. It would not have been hard to get NZIER's Peter Wilson on the phone.

And you'd be wondering just why you're paying $200/year as a subscription fee, and whether they'll refund the balance of the subscription like you've requested.

I'll stop there. The piece goes on, and does have a quote from the beverage industry saying that the beverage industry doesn't like sugar taxes. And it concludes with a link to Sundborn's petition - despite (I'd thought!) standard drill at Herald being that they don't outlink.

I'll reconsider the subscription cancellation if they fix this mess.

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