Last week the New Zealand Initiative put out a report criticising food taxes. The report attracted a great deal of attention but the organisation that wrote it, not so much. Many will not be aware that the NZ Initiative is not a think tank in the traditional sense but a merger of the right wing lobby group the Business Roundtable and the partisan NZ Institute.
Many will also be surprised to know that the University of Auckland is a member of the NZ Initiative.
TEU president Sandra Grey says while the University of Auckland has the right to belong to any organisation it chooses, it may well want to reconsider this association.
“The New Zealand Initiative’s ideological publications often conflict with the peer-reviewed research that Auckland’s own academics publish. Because the Initiative is backed by extremely wealthy donors its publications often overwhelm the credible scientific research that academics are doing in the same field.”
University of Otago public health academic Lisa Te Morenga say the Initiative’s latest report on sugar taxes is very critical of current public health research, but it does not apply the same rigorous criticism to its own ideas.
She cites the report’s unsupported speculation that a sugar-sweetened beverage tax will lead people to eat other unhealthy food such as crisps instead.
Te Morenga says she is particularly concerned about the report because it echoes the line that the minister of health wants to hear at the moment.
“The report always comes back to consumer education as the solution – without a shred of evidence that this works. It pays no attention to the huge marketing budgets that the food industry has to promote its sugary drinks compared to the budgets that the public has available to promote healthy eating education messages.”
Te Morenga describes this as policy-led evidence rather than evidence-led policy.
“I do find it difficult that Minister Coleman gives more credence to the views of economists than public health researchers.”
Te Morenga says there is a tension between the University of Auckland’s membership of the NZ Initiative and the work its public health academics are doing “but it can be managed”.
Tertiary Update contacted the University of Auckland for its comments on its membership of the NZ Initiative but we have not received a response yet. When we do we will share it.
Thanks to J J at Flickr for the photo https://www.flickr.com/photos/tattoodjay/4078611769/