Thursday 23 January 2014

"An endgame to Sugar-Sweetened Beverages in NZ by 2025?"

Oh, the things that the Health Research Council helps support. [See update, below: support seems not to be financial.] See substantial update on HRC below.

Via Dave Guerin, I find that Auckland Uni is hosting a symposium: "Sugary Drink Free Pacific By 2030?" The press release notes Richard Johnson and Robert Lustig as keynotes. Lustig is famous for his "fructose is toxic" position; Johnson's pretty similar.

The first day's sessions will discuss just how evil sugar is. The second day's sessions will cover policies to reduce sugar, including a keynote from a guy who's eating a lot of sugar and making a movie about it, a talk by Tony Falkenstein advocating a soda tax, a talk on lessons for advocacy, and one called "An endgame to SSB [sugar-sweetened beverages] in NZ by 2025?"

Tony Falkenstein is likely the same Tony Falkenstein whose day job is putting water coolers and filters in NZ offices: they're called "Just Water". I doubt he has any particular expertise in soda taxes, other than that they hit competitor beverages. He's also the one helping organise some class action suit against Coke and the beverage companies. I'd thought that part of the deal with the Accident Compensation Commission was that New Zealand didn't really have class action liability suits; I expect that it's largely a publicity stunt for Falkenstein's water company. I think we had one of his water coolers before we moved offices; I think I can see a budget line item that the Department can pretty quickly do away with as part of our ongoing budget cuts.

Now down at the bottom of this fantabulous shindig's programme is an HRC logo. It's also on the Symposium's flyer advertising their keynotes. I wonder how much HRC is paying to help sponsor this event. Registration is $100 and they're flying in two keynotes from the US; there's no way they're covering their costs based on registration fees.

[Update: HRC's Chair, in comments below, confirms that HRC is not providing financial support for the conference. It mirrors the conference materials on its website, its branding is on the conference collateral materials, and it advertises the conference on its website, but that should not be mistaken for HRC support of the event. The paragraph below consequently is struck. Note further that while HRC reports to the Minster of Health and while its Board is appointed by the Minister of Health, it is not part of MoH.]

Update 2: The Taxpayers' Federation reports (18 February) that FIZZ has used HRC's logo without HRC's permission and that HRC is seeking that the logo be removed.

I also wonder why the National government allows its Ministry of Health to fund issue advocacy events like this. Weren't they supposed to be stomping on this kind of thing?

Add to the slippery slopes file. A couple years ago it was SmokeFreeNZ 2025. Now MoH seems to be putting money into a conference pushing an end to soft drinks by 2025. Now it's moving towards ending sugar-based soft drinks. I wonder how long until they want plain packaging for Coke.

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