Tuesday 18 February 2014

Big Food

New Zealand's tell-people-what-to-eat campaigners have a busy week. 

Monday, the University of Otago at Wellington hosted a one-day session on the evils of "Big Food". Stuff covers it here; David Farrar nicely critiques things.

Here's one of the Otago presenters' policy recommendations, as noted in the Stuff piece:
Gabrielle Jenkin's advice to New Zealand's policymakers:
  • Ban advertising and marketing of unhealthy food.
  • Improve food labelling, ideally with a "traffic light" system.
  • Change planning policy so unhealthy food outlets are unable to set up near schools.
  • Outlet numbers should be restricted by population size.
  • Restrict unhealthy food in public institutions such as schools.
  • Install more public water fountains.
  • Make unhealthy food unaffordable, either by taxation or by subsidising healthy food.
  • Force "Big Food" to reduce salt, fat and sugar in products.
  • Restrict portion sizes, as New York tried with soft drink in 2013. 
Farrar uses the appropriate language in response.

Jenkin seems to particularly hate KFC:
Television shows such as The Biggest Loser, Downsize Me and Embarrassing Fat Bodies reinforced the personal responsibility message. "The message is ‘Get your big arse off the sofa', rather than ‘Stop the KFC opening across the road'."
However,some governments had stood up to Big Food. In Britain, manufacturers have been forced to reduce fat, sugar and salt, and New York's governor attempted to restrict portion sizes and introduce nutritional information in restaurants.
In New Zealand, politicians remained cowed by Big Food, she said. In deprived towns and suburbs, fast food outlets were so numerous as to be unavoidable.
"New Zealand is appalling. You're sniffing KFC wherever you go."
Maybe I'm weird, but I love the smell of KFC. It makes me so hungry every time I drive by one. I just wish there were one on campus.

And while you can totally get public choice models where interest groups are able to shift policy away from what the public wants, does it really seem like industry lobbying is the binding constraint here? KFC is delicious. Does it seem that likely that people who find KFC delicious would warmly welcome politicians who banned them from eating KFC? A median voter model seems by far the more plausible explanation of why KFC hasn't yet been banned here. John Key's National government campaigned against all the nanny state stuff. And while his government is happy to keep paying Otago and Auckland to churn out the 'ban stuff' studies and conferences, Key's not going to take on a new nanny initiative that doesn't have broad public support, unless it's a play to throw some support to ACT.

I wasn't at the BigFood shindig, but here are some reports from their twitter hashtag.

The big anti-sugar conference is coming up at Auckland Uni on Wednesday and Thursday. I expect that the news and talk radio will be intolerable for much of the week.

Otago used to own the "ban stuff" niche; now, Auckland and Otago seem to be competing with each other to see which can be the most vocal advocates of banning stuff. Rents predict entry I suppose.


  1. Given this recent study, I'm surprised that anyone still claims that "we" know what "healthy" food is. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0076632

  2. Who do these people think they are? I suspect that they know they don't represent the "common folks" like me. They know this because they are so all knowing, so elitist, that they know what all the rest of us are too stupid to know and therefore they need to protect is. I say rack-off. I would like the Taxpayers Union to start a personal responsibility group.

    For a group of educators, or should I say people in education institutions, it is interesting that they prefer banning (via taxes) over education and personal choice.

  3. From my cold dead hands! :)

  4. They tried nagging people, it didn't do much. Where voluntary measures are insufficient, they then go for compulsion.

  5. So a sample of 1 example :). My 10 year old had a group of sports people come and talk about sugar at school. They showed how much sugar was in different drinks etc. It stuck in his mind and he brings it up. He does not get soft drinks at home, but it also educated him about fruit juices etc.

    Information is powerful, personal responsibility is crucial and dictatorship abhorrent.