by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Australia

Mar 14 2016

Gaming Australia’s Health Star labeling system

Australia has government-sponsored front-of-package nutrient labeling—the Health Star system—that looks a lot like the U.S. grocery industry’s Facts Up Front, but is even more favorable to manufacturers of processed foods.

As I explained a few years ago, Facts Up Front was a successful scheme by the Grocery Manufacturers and Food Marketing Associations to head off the FDA’s attempts to put traffic-light signals on the front of processed food products (here’s more of the back story).

Like the U.S. system, the Australian system is voluntary.  Unlike it, Health Stars are prominent and convey the impression that the more starts, the better.

A year into the program, Australian newspapers are writing about how companies are “gaming” the system:

SOURCE: CHOICE

Deakin University professor of public health nutrition Mark Lawrence said the health star rating system was being exploited as a marketing tool by junk food manufacturers to make consumers think their food was healthy. He said the scheme for packaged food undermined the public health message that people should eat fresh, unprocessed food.

This article quotes a statement by Kellogg that sales of Nutrigrain cereal went up after the company reformulated the product to raise its rating from 2 to 4 stars.

But isn’t reformulation a good thing?  It could be but just because a processed food is “better-for-you,” does not necessarily make it a good choice.

Professor Mark Lawrence of Deakin and Christina Pollard of Curtin University write:

Its main design limitation is that it simplistically frames the cause of, and solution to, dietary imbalances in terms of nutrients. This is fundamentally at odds with the latest nutrition advice, which uses a food-based approach…So what the health star rating system ends up doing is encouraging marketing of unhealthy or discretionary foods, as healthy options.

Overall, they point out:

Part of the problem is that the campaign’s main message – “the more stars the better” – is misleading…The actual health message is to eat more of these [recommended healthy] foods; it’s not that we should try to eat food with more stars.

Good advice.

Mar 12 2016

“Superannuated Chardonnay Socialist!” Moi?

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sarah Whyte of ABC 7:30 interviewed me and others for a 6-minute segment on Coca-Cola’s funding of health researchers.  Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

TIM OLDS, UNI. OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA: I’ve got about $26 million worth of funding, and of that, probably less than $2 million would have come from industry sources. Most of it comes from government schemes such as the NHMRC and the ARC, a lot from government departments.

SARAH WHYTE: So when you take that funding, do you get other academics saying you shouldn’t be taking funding from that?

TIM OLDS: We get a lot of academics saying that.

SARAH WHYTE: He disagrees with people like Marion Nestle who says his work is compromised.

TIM OLDS: I think frankly this is an example old-style, superannuated chardonnay socialism.

Oh.

Here’s what he’s referring to (the dates are Australian).

February 17  Marcus Strom, a business reporter with the Sydney Morning Herald, invites me to lunch to discuss issues related to Soda Politics.

February 24  Strom publishes an article based on our conversation: “What Coca-Cola isn’t telling you about its health funding in Australia” (the video tells the story).

February 26  The Sydney Morning Herald publishes Strom’s account of our lunch interview.

March 1  I give a lecture on Soda Politics at the University of Sydney.

March 3  In response to my remarks, the director of Coca-Cola Amatil makes this statement: “one can [of soda] a week not unhealthy.”

March 10  Coca-Cola publishes a preliminary version of its “commitment to transparency,” listing some of the community organizations it funds.

March 10  Strom writes an analysis of the transparency list—$1.7 million in support of research over five years—noting several key omissions.

March 10  ABC 7:30 runs its video (and see transcript).

March 10  A blogger publishes a list of individuals funded by Coca-Cola during that period.

March 11  Coca-Cola releases the complete version of its transparency list, including the names of individuals.

March 11  I receive an e-mail message from a Coca-Cola official stating the company’s commitment to transparency.

We are continuing to progress on our commitment to enhance our transparency in markets across the globe. Today, in Australia and New Zealand, we launched country-specific websites listing our health and well-being partnerships, research and health professionals and scientific experts that have received financial support from Coca-Cola from 2010-2015. In December 2015, we launched sites with this information in Great BritainGermanyFranceIreland, DenmarkFinlandBelgiumSwedenNorway and the Netherlands.  We will publish the six-month update for the U.S. later this month.

March 11  Strom attempts to interview the 14 health experts on Coca-Cola’s list; most don’t return his calls.

Coca-Cola deserves much praise for following through on its transparency commitments.  The aftermath continues.

Additions: New Zealand transparency and more from Australia

March 3: Coke: One can a week ‘not unhealthy’

March 11:  Coca-Cola cash went to NZ health organisations and research

March 11: Coca-Cola funds research in NZ, NZ Herald

March 13: Three Kiwi health professionals took money from Coca-Cola

March 14:  Gary Moorhead, past CEO of Sports Medicine Australia argues that shaming researchers does no good

March 15: NZ Dominion Post editorial says dentists should not take money from Coca-Cola

March 16: The Press, New Zealand, editorial on whether Coca-Cola should be paying scientists

Mar 7 2016

Sugar: in Australia, it’s “Better for You”

At my lecture at the University of Sydney last week, a member of the audience presented me with a 750-gram package of Low GI [Glycemic Index] cane sugar, labeled “Better for you.”

This product is sugar.  Its ingredient list says “pure cane sugar.”

The label also says:

  • 100% Natural
  • Longer Lasting Energy

The Glycemic Index (GI) refers to the comparative ability of 50 grams of a food to raise blood glucose levels.  The standard is pure glucose, which has a  GI of 100.

This sugar has a GI of 50.  Hence: “Low GI.”

Of course it does.  Cane sugar is sucrose: 50% glucose, 50% fructose.  It’s half fructose, which is absorbed more slowly and has a much lower GI.

The CSR website says:

CSR LoGiCane™ uses world first technology to develop a sugar with a naturally Low Glycemic Index (GI). It works by spraying an all natural molasses extract onto raw sugar. This molasses naturally increases sugar’s resistance to digestion. By having a low GI, CSR LoGiCane™ takes longer to be digested, resulting in a slower release of energy, which can help curb hunger cravings. CSR LoGiCane™ represents innovation in sugar – the same sweet tasting natural sugar, with the added benefit of carrying the official Low GI symbol and a Low GI rating of just 50.

No, I am not making this up.

I can’t imagine that the difference in speed of absorption of cane sugar and of sprayed cane sugar is measurable, let alone meaningful.

And what about the fructose?  Fructose is the source of much concern about the effects of excessive intake on liver and heart function, so much that Dr. Robert Lustig considers it a “poison.”

This particular brand of sugar carries a certification seal from the Glycemic Index Foundation, whose motto is “making healthy choices easy.”  It is supported by the University of Sydney and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The Foundation generates income by licensing the low GI Symbol to manufacturers of healthier low GI foods.

Is “low GI” cane sugar healthier than cane sugar?   The mind boggles.

The World Health Organization recommends that added sugars of any kind comprise no more than 10% of calories, with 5% being even better.  for many people, this translates to eating less sugar of any kind.  Good advice.

Feb 29 2016

Dairy food politics, Australia. Kangaroo politics too.

Dairy politics

This Melbourne newspaper has a front page story about Australia’s efforts to sell milk to China.Capture

The government allowed a Chinese billionaire to buy the biggest dairy farm in Tasmania for a mere $280 million (an Australian dollar is worth 70 cents U.S.).  The buyer has promised to process the milk into cheese, butter, spreads, and milk powder for infant formula in local Fonterra facilities in order to maintain current prices.

The worry, according to Independent member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie:

The new owner could decide to process the milk elsewhere, or to have it processed at Fonterra but allocated to an overseas market.  There is now uncertainty of supply and price in the market, and understandable fear we’re going to see a repeat of the baby formula episode where so much is going overseas Australians simply can’t buy it here and if they can, it’s at an inflated price.

An editorial in the same issue says:

There is real concern that the new owner of the 17,800-hectare Van Duenen’s Land Company in Tasmania might prefer to supply the Chinese market.  A tin of baby formula sells in China for four times its price in Australia, where supermarket shelves have been stripped bare….Last year, another Chinese billionaire bought two major cattle stations in Australia’s far north…Australians need to know how much of the country has been sold off to foreign investors.

I continue to remain baffled about the massive efforts to get dairy products into China.  Few traditional diets in China contained dairy foods and lactose intolerance, mild to severe, is widespread in Asian populations.

Dairy farming has replaced sheep farming in New Zealand, with devastating effects on the environment.

Kangaroo politics

This newspaper also describes efforts to cull kangaroos for use in pet food.  Kangaroos pose the same traffic-hazard problems that deer do in the U.S.

They are a major hazard [on the roads] and they’re a major concern.  We spend a lot of time picking up dead kangaroos.

Although the article didn’t say so, I’m guessing arguments over the culling are similar to those about deer and similarly splits animal lovers from gardeners and traffic officials.

Feb 22 2016

Energy drink marketing, Australia style

Alexandra Jones, of the University of Sydney’s George Institute for Global Health, was kind enough to forward the promotional activities of V, a New Zealand energy drink, on college campuses during orientation week.

These, to say the least, got my attention.

According to the company’s promotional materials (take a look!), it wants colleges to agree to let it:

  • Put used textbooks into college libraries that V carves out with V-shaped holes.
  • Give prizes including free product, cash, and “life-hack” recommendations such as “sneak booze into anywhere by hollowing out a baguette.”
  • Appoint brand ambassadors to hand out sample cans like “an energetic Christmas charity drive”
  • Conduct ongoing activities throughout the academic year including sending “sneaky ninja staff” into campus libraries to hide V promotions and prizes among the “less helpful, less exciting actual books.”

Here’s how:

We’re going to take an elephant-load of used textbooks and cut a V-shaped hole in the pages.  We’ll put in fake V cans with a super mysterious mystery prize in it.  Most of the time it’ll be free Vs.  Sometimes it’ll be a fistful of cash, but they’ll always have a life-hack recommendation with it.  For example, if it’s a beginner’s Spanish book, the hack says,”¿le gustaria ir a cenar?” is how you say, “would you like to go to dinner,” in Spanish.  As the hot girl/guy in your class and use this $500 for some fancy tapas and sangria (Spanish food).

I suppose this is meant to be funny and $500 ought to be enough for a good dinner, even at inflated Sydney restaurant prices.

Will librarians be amused?

The faculty, understandably, is not.

The campaign has been pitched to Sydney Uni.  Will the university agree to it?

The mind boggles.

Addition, Feb 25: Here’s an article about this.

Feb 16 2016

Encouraging healthy kids’ eating, Woolworths Australia

Thanks to Sinead Boylan for sending me this photo about Woolworths’ attempt to encourage kids to eat fruit.

IMG_1419

 

Wouldn’t you think everyone would be thrilled at the idea of giving free fruit to kids?  No such luck.

Sinaed asks: Is W00lies (which is what they call it) trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

The Australian press worries about foodborne illness.

I think it’s a great idea.  I hope it works.

Feb 16 2016

Sponsored research Down Under: alcohol and violence

Thanks to my friend Jocelyn Harris of Dunedin, New Zealand for forwarding this editorial from the Otago Daily Times of January 16.

The editorial notes that a recent report finding no linkage between alcohol consumption and violence among Australians and New Zealanders was sponsored by Lion, a leading supplier of alcoholic beverages.

The report is Understanding Behavior in the Australian and New Zealand Night-Time Economies: An Anthropological Study.  Its author, anthropologist Anne Fox, lists these key findings:

  • Alcohol-related violence is just one aspect of a culture of violence.
  • There is no direct relationship between per capita levels of consumption and rates of violence.
  • A drinking culture is both a part of and a reflection of the culture as a whole.
  • Efforts at alcohol control will be ineffective if not related to changes in the macho culture of violence.
  • Scapegoating alcohol as the sole cause of violence merely diverts attention from violent men and the maladaptive cultural norms that allow their behaviour to develop and proliferate.

Her recommendations focus on the behavior of individuals behavior.  They largely dismiss the value of approaches such as limitations on alcohol marketing, the times alcoholic beverages can be sold, or the ways beverage companies create local cultures of drinking.

In a nutshell, the central point of this whitepaper is: it is the wider culture that determines the drinking behaviour, not the drinking. You can’t change a culture by simply changing drinking. It is, of course, justifiable to explore the effectiveness of small measures such as advertising restrictions, increases or decreases in price, relaxation or restriction of hours, but such things tinker at the margins of culture and it is doubtful that they will alter the culture of violence and anti-social behaviour in any meaningful way.

The report explains:

We could become totalitarian and try to stop public festive drinking completely, but it would most likely just move into homes. Or we can live with it and try to determine what the worst outcomes are (police overtime, all night transport cost, lost work hours and productivity, accidents and injuries, street clean-up, etc.,), and work to minimise and deal with them sensibly. We would do better to work cooperatively with all stakeholders to engineer conditions for festive drinking that are the least conducive to violence and anti-social behaviour.

In other words, societies should fix the problem at the level of “festive” drinking, but should not bother to try to prevent it at an earlier stage in the chain of causation of alcohol abuse.

The Otago Daily Times editorial concludes:

It is vital we keep debating the issues, examining the causes and hearing all the voices in the debate.

But that debate must be fair and honest.

It is a real shame, therefore, that Dr Fox has effectively silenced herself by aligning herself with an alcohol industry giant when her findings could have made a valuable contribution had they been genuinely independent.

Presumably, Lion got the report it paid for.  But it left itself—and the author’s work—vulnerable to charges of bias, an inevitable hazard of industry-sponsored research.

A shame indeed.

Feb 15 2016

The food movement, Australia

My daily walk to the Charles Perkins Centre at Sydney Uni takes me past Ground Up—the campus community garden.

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It has a greenhouse.  And vegetables.

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It’s summer here!

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