Hit job: The inside story of dirty tactics exposed in landmark defamation case

How the PR campaign to undermine public-health critics of Big Sugar, Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco turned dirty – and the continuing fight over food politics. By Peter Griffin.

Professor Doug Sellman had never visited Whale Oil, the right-wing blogging website that labelled him “mad” and a “trougher” and only interested in amassing research funding and taking overseas junkets.

The director of the National Addiction Centre and respected University of Otago academic tried his best to ignore the mocking blog posts he figured went with the territory as an advocate for tighter alcohol control.

Then came the publication in August 2014 of Dirty Politics, in which investigative journalist Nicky Hager published emails and chat messages hacked from Whale Oil founder Cameron Slater by “Rawshark”, a figure unidentified to this day. The leaked correspondence exposed political smear tactics and paid hit jobs.

Sellman discovered that he, too, had been singled out for attacks. The book revealed that Carrick Graham, an Auckland-based lobbyist with tobacco, food and alcohol companies on his roster of clients, had paid Slater an amount later established in court as $124,000 between 2012 and 2016 to run pro-industry blog posts, some of which targeted public-health campaigners critical of Big Sugar, Big Alcohol and other interests.

But who was Graham’s paymaster? Dirty Politics alleged that Katherine Rich, the former National Party MP who led the Food & Grocery Council (FGC), was involved. The powerful industry lobby group represents food and beverage producers that sell tens of billions of dollars of products, including alcohol and tobacco, in our supermarkets each year.

One of Graham’s leaked emails, sent to Slater on January 21, 2014, had the subject line “Sugar”.

“Coke keeps sending stuff to KR expecting her to do something (where we come in). Hit pending.”

The references to other “KR hits” were numerous, and the inference – always denied by Rich – was that her organisation was bankrolling Whale Oil smear campaigns. “I was shocked by the apparent orchestrated nature of it,” Sellman says.

He contacted two colleagues who had also received the Whale Oil treatment – Boyd Swinburn, a University of Auckland professor of population nutrition and expert on the health effects of sugary and highly processed foods, and Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, a long-time advocate of efforts to lower the smoking rate among Māori who used to run Te Reo Mārama, the Māori Smokefree Coalition.

Between them, the three men had tobacco, alcohol, fat and sugar in their sights. They weren’t the only researchers targeting them as a means of reducing the harm the industries selling these products help create. But they were the loudest voices pushing for regulatory change.

“Once we started telling our people in campaigns that the biggest Māori killer was the tobacco industry, we were on the industry’s shit list,” says Bradbrook.

Three factors put Sellman in the cross hairs. He considers alcohol to be an addictive drug and supermarkets, as the largest retailers of alcohol, the “biggest drug dealers”. He also highlights the research base linking alcohol consumption to increased rates of cancer.

“Those three things are very inflammatory to the industry,” says Sellman.

As an advocate for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and regulating marketing of junk food to children, Swinburn was striking at the heart of an industry dominated by the likes of Coca-Cola Amatil, PepsiCo and Frucor Suntory.

“I was furious, ready to get stuck into action,” says Swinburn of the Whale Oil posts that took aim at him nearly a decade ago. Among other things, he was awarded the “Trougher of the Year” prize in 2013. His university’s PR team advised him to hold back. But Dirty Politics later showed some of the tactics used to target public-health researchers in other countries were being applied here, too.

Bradbrook was called a “terrorist”.

“They try to get under your skin, make you furious and worried and afraid,” says Swinburn. “They want to make other people doubt you.”

In his case, the sneering blog posts were one thing. But Swinburn also found that almost every meeting he had with someone in government was followed by an Official Information Act (OIA) request.

“People in government are risk-averse and this created a cloud around me,” he says.
At least Swinburn and Sellman had the backing of their universities. For Shane Bradbrook, running a small non-profit, which received Ministry of Health funding, there was little protection.

Bradbrook was also the subject of extensive OIA requests lodged by Graham.

“We believed at the time that pressure was being applied to the Ministry of Health to defund us as a result of lobbying efforts by the tobacco industry,” says Bradbrook.

Eventually, they were indeed defunded. It followed a Ministry of Health audit of Te Reo Mārama that revealed deficiencies in the organisation’s record keeping. Bradbrook claims the issues were quickly addressed, but the damage was done.

“There was absolutely no fraud committed. But the insinuations raised about us abusing overseas travel and misusing taxpayers’ money – we couldn’t weather that storm.”
Te Reo Mārama closed its doors in 2010.

Up for a fight

By 2016, Graham was still in the lobbying business and seemingly recovering from the Dirty Politics scandal when Bradbrook, Sellman and Swinburn filed a defamation lawsuit against him.

Slater was named as a defendant alongside Graham. So, too, were Rich and the FGC. All of the defendants were seemingly up for a fight, engaging reluctantly in the pre-trial hearings and slow court discovery process. But that changed last October when Rich and the FGC abruptly settled with the public-health advocates. No apology was given and no acknowledgement of wrongdoinghas been made public, but confidential payments were made to the plaintiffs.

The final vestiges of Dirty Politics were put to bed in early March as the case againstSlater and Graham finally went to trial. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Davey Salmon alleged to Justice Tracey Walker that Graham had received payment from the FGC to write attack posts against the three academics and their work and then paid theWhale Oil site $300 a time to publish them.

Rich continues to vigorously deny she or the FGC was involved in the smear campaign.

Salmon suggested the posts written by Graham anonymously on Whale Oil about tobacco matters, and attacking Bradbrook, had been at times racist, crass and even saw Graham arguing with himself via different commentator identities – including Naylor, Lion King, DLM and Hayley Green – in provocative and defamatory discussions.

After a break in proceedings, Salmon announced a settlement had been reached. It involved Graham paying costs and issuing what amounted to a full apology.

He admitted contributing to the text of defamatory blog posts and comments and paying Slater to run them on Whale Oil. “I am now aware that a number of statements I made about the plaintiffs were untrue, unfair, offensive, insulting and defamatory,” Graham’s apology read.

“I acknowledge that the plaintiffs’ work on the harms of tobacco, alcohol, and processed foods and beverages, was undertaken responsibly and in the public interest.”

Graham also made a confidential payment as part of the settlement. In a statement at the time, Bradbrook expressed relief. “It’s a good feeling to have it acknowledged we were actually defamed, and then apologised to for it. To be accused of being a fraudster and associated with terrorism, as I was by the dirty PR campaign orchestrated by Graham at a time that he was working for Big Tobacco, and published by Cameron Slater, was a terrible burden on me and my whānau for too many years.”

A few days later, Slater, who had abandoned his own defence months earlier, was judged to have defamed the researchers and ordered to pay costs. He is unlikely to be able to do so, having been declared bankrupt in 2019.

Graham’s reputation and career have been shredded by the Dirty Politics saga. He declined an interview with the Listener.

“As much as part of me would still like to have fought those issues through to judgment, honestly, after five long years of litigation, I am just sick of it all,” he wrote in an email.

Slater’s friends in the National Party largely abandoned him after Hager’s book was published. Whale Oil, once the country’s most trafficked blog website, limped on for a few years, a shadow of its former self, before shutting down in 2019.

The company behind Whale Oil, Social Media Consultants Ltd, was liquidated owing about $660,000. In 2018, Slater was found to have defamed former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, in a series of posts published in the wake of the 2014 election. In 2019, a seven-year lawsuit concluded with Slater judged to have defamed former Hell’s Pizza executive Matt Blomfield in blogs published in 2012.

In 2019, Slater suffered a debilitating stroke.

Although the public-health advocates’ case revealed that the FGC had paid Graham $366,000 between 2009 and 2016, there is no documentary evidence to prove that the payments were made to fund the Whale Oil posts.

Invoices obtained as part of the court’s discovery process in the case use generic language, such as “develop support mechanisms for FGC strategies”. But the emails and documents supplied to the court only date from after the publication of Dirty Politics. Graham puts his inability to supply documents from the years when the Whale Oil posts were published down to “computer malfunctions”.

“One was a computer that was burnt in a car fire, which I was involved in,” he told the court. “Another one stopped working because I spilt some liquid on it and the third one, unfortunately, it just stopped working and I’m not an IT techie and so if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And I lost data as a result.”

Rich supplied documents and email correspondence with Graham to the court but none of them discussed paying for Whale Oil posts.

Sellman remains sceptical. “[Graham] had every opportunity to show the evidence of what he was doing for the Food & Grocery Council, which would have vindicated her. He didn’t.”

Uphill battle

“Over the past 30 years [industry] have been winning in New Zealand,” Swinburn says. “There’s not a single hard policy that’s come in to try to deal with childhood obesity, or the junk-food diet of our kids, no sugary drinks tax, no restrictions on marketing junk food to kids,” he says. (However, the Advertising Standards Authority has introduced codes of practice for food advertising to children that refer to the Ministry of Health’s food and nutrition guidelines.)

The only bright spot in recent years, says Swinburn, has been the school lunches programme launched last year and funded to the tune of $220 million. But that arrived as a shovel-ready project, part of the Covid economic stimulus package, rather than a dedicated public-health push.

“There’s huge policy inertia and, in my opinion, the Food & Grocery Council are responsible for a large part of that,” Swinburn says.

The problem, he says, is that New Zealand has no strong mechanisms for dealing with commercial conflicts of interest when individuals and groups offer advice to the government.

We are better at handling personal conflicts – witness the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s apology last week for accepting tickets to a Black Caps match. Cricket interests lobbied him to let players receive a Covid-19 vaccination early so they can travel overseas for matches.

Commercial conflicts are informally dealt with. That’s why Rich was able to spend four years from 2011 to 2015 on the board of Te Hiringa Hauora/Health Promotion Agency, a Crown entity tasked with promoting healthy lifestyles and with a particular remit to advise the government on the “sale, supply, consumption, misuses and harm of alcohol”.
“That was a clear commercial conflict of interest,” says Swinburn.

“Prime Minister John Key and health minister Tony Ryall saw no problem with that. The State Services Commission had no policy or procedures to refer to when we complained.”
However, he reports some progress; Swinburn himself now sits on the agency’s board, which is made up exclusively of public-health experts.

Policy inertia

Fresh from her stint as a National Party MP, Rich scored an early win at the FGC in 2009 when she led the charge in fighting proposals for mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid.

The scientific consensus, confirmed nearly a decade later by the Royal Society Te Apārangi and Sir Peter Gluckman in one of his last reports as Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister, was that fortification of all packaged bread could prevent about 10 babies a year from being born with neural tube defects.

Rich’s line a decade earlier, that a pregnant woman would have to eat 11 slices of bread a day to receive the required amount of folic acid, had major cut-through with the public. She also played up the potential for increased cancer risk in some parts of the population from consuming too much folate.

In contrast with Australia, adding folic acid to bread remains a voluntary measure here, allowing the baking industry to avoid millions of dollars in compliance costs each year.
Another success for Rich was in helping make the case to the government for a voluntary health-star rating for packaged food labelling. “We ended up with a third-class, ineffective scheme in which health stars are on less than a third of products after six years,” says Swinburn.

Meanwhile, Chile, Peru and Mexico have all mandated front-of-package health warning labels. The difference? “Industry was excluded from the policy table and public health and informed consumers were the highest priority,” says Swinburn.

The same policy inertia exists when it comes to alcohol. According to Alcohol Action NZ, the advocacy group Sellman co-founded, harm from alcohol costs the country over $7 billion a year – about 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

A “deadly triad” of factors – low pricing, widespread advertising and easy availability of alcohol is to blame.

“In terms of the alcohol industry, over half their profit comes from heavy, hazardous drinking,” says Sellman. “So they have absolutely no investment in change or any further regulation to reduce the harm from alcohol. We need to drink less alcohol.”

A game-changer, he believes, would be the introduction of minimum unit pricing, which would target low-cost, high-strength alcohol products. Public Health Scotland reported last year that alcohol sales in Scotland’s shops dropped nearly 5% in 2019, following the government’s move to set a minimum unit price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol the previous year.

More progress has been made in tackling tobacco usage. A pack of 25 cigarettes now costs about $37 thanks to sharp tobacco excise tax increases. Tobacco is hidden in supermarket cabinets and the packaging contains graphic images of tumour-filled lungs and rotting teeth.

Nevertheless, we are on track to miss our ambitious Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 target. Although 11.6 per cent of the population still smokes daily, the rate is 28.7 per cent among Māori.

Bradbrook says New Zealand used to be a leader in smoke-free policies and was one of the first countries to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in 2004. But efforts have stagnated since then.

“There has been no national strategy for tobacco control for over a decade,” he says. “We should have been on the cusp of single figures percentage wise, even with Māori.”
Instead, he says, we have witnessed the rise of e-cigarettes, and the major tobacco makers now also control the market for nicotine-based vape products, replacing one addiction for another.

“Some of my colleagues picked vaping to be the saviour, rather than using all of those other interventions that were recommended,” Bradbrook says.

No appetite for reform

It may be tempting to put the lack of progress on our most critical public health issues down to nearly a decade of National government, which allowed strong industry input into policy development. But none of the public health advocates see it as a blue/red issue.
“The sugary-drinks tax in the UK came in under a Tory government,” Swinburn points out. “You’ve got the chaos of Brexit and Covid there, yet they are pushing through regulations around junk food and banning all digital marketing of food to kids.

“I don’t care what colour the government is, as long as it does something.”

Sellman says the Labour Government has shown no willingness so far to spend its “considerable political capital” on alcohol, junk-food and tobacco-policy reform.

The bottom line, argues Swinburn, is that we have weak policies regulating profitable, harmful products. Until industry groups are excluded from policy formation, he doesn’t see that changing.

The settlements with Graham, Rich and the FGC and the judgment against Slater could seem like a hollow victory, a successful battle in a losing war. But Swinburn, Sellman and Bradbrook say settling the issue after five years has given their work new impetus.

The publication of Dirty Politics came at a very difficult time for Sellman. Diagnosed with advanced glaucoma in 2004, 10 years later his sight had deteriorated to the extent he needed an operation to reduce the fluid pressure in his eyes. But it left him with impaired vision that radically changed his life. “I couldn’t drive or ride my bike and my reading ability became significantly compromised.”

The settlement has reinvigorated him. “If you are an advocate and the industry is ignoring you, you’re not very effective. If we could halve the harm from alcohol we would have such a better country.”

Swinburn has established the Health Coalition Aotearoa, an umbrella organisation representing advocacy groups, researchers and non-government organisations pushing for greater action on tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food.

“They are all keen to see action, but every individual group doesn’t have enough money or time. They are not organised as a single voice,” he says.

“I’m hopeful we can lift our voices together and create the demand for policy change.”
Bradbrook says the settlement has finally given him the confidence to “come out of the shadows” and return to higher-profile work as an anti-smoking campaigner.

“It’s been bloody terrible,” he says. “It’s played havoc with my personal relationships. It’s tiring, it’s emotional, but I couldn’t have done it without these two public-health mates to help shoulder the load.”

Sugar and spite

Katherine Rich says challenging the assertions of academics is part of the rough and tumble of public debate but she continues to deny funding a smear campaign – and strongly objects to the slurs against herself. By Jane Clifton.

The health advocates claiming vindication after their defamation lawsuits were settled out of court were no shrinking violets themselves. Some of their own accusations over the years have been eye-wateringly harsh: calling supermarkets “drug-pushers” and the alcohol industry “white-collar sociopaths” and, in one case, retweeting a post that called the food industry “21st-century paedophiles violating the rights of children”.

The nearly five-year legal wrangle follows a torrid war of words between the food, alcohol and tobacco industries and a community of academics who advocate a more regulated approach to public health and nutrition, of which the two professors at the centre of the legal drama, Doug Sellman and Boyd Swinburn, are hugely respected leaders.

In more than 20 years of dispute, this has never been an arena for the faint-hearted, but few would dispute that the ad hominem style of the blogosphere and social media have cranked up the animus.

Although the academics are claiming victory, having reached a settlement with the Food and Grocery Council (FGC) and received an apology from its former public-relations agent Carrick Graham and a “no defence” concession from Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, the outcome is more complex than a simple win-lose.

Firstly, the third plaintiff, anti-smoking activist Shane Bradbrook, whose complaints comprised nearly half of the trio’s action, conceded his case against the FGC last year and was ordered to pay what the council describes as its “considerable” costs. That settlement has been barely, if ever, mentioned in the victors’ post-settlement interviews.

Says FGC chief executive Katherine Rich, who was personally named in the action: “In the end, he [Bradbrook] had to accept that neither I nor the council’s members had ever heard of him, and had done nothing to him. To say that we attacked a Māori anti-smoking campaigner is actually quite defamatory.”

Secondly, the plaintiffs failed to prove one of their most serious allegations, that the FGC and Rich planted objectionable material blackguarding them on the Whale Oil blog.

Although Graham did PR for the council and was active, anonymous and abusive on the controversial blog, no evidence has been produced that Rich or her membership ever directed him or paid him to place material anonymously on blogs or elsewhere, or that they knew he was doing it. Rich categorically denied it in her affidavit and has issued no apology.

But, she says, it now seems to be received wisdom that the FGC paid for attacks.

The allegations surfaced due to comments made in the leaked “Rawshark” emails to and from Slater, many of which investigative journalist Nicky Hager published in his 2014 book Dirty Politics. The smoking gun was a reference Graham made to a “KR hit”.

Rich says she was as surprised as anyone to see that apparent reference to her, as the $366,000 including GST that the council paid Graham over nine years was for press releases, advice and media monitoring.

The plaintiffs said Graham’s firm had paid Whale Oil $124,000 over four years. Graham settled last month, obviating a judge’s order that more of his email traffic, including from his other clients, be produced.

Sceptics say Rich should have known better than to contract Graham, given his other clients included British American Tobacco.

Exempting academics

A former National MP, Rich was famously on the “wet liberal” side of the caucus and not known for belligerence or extreme views. She says she never has and never would authorise “black ops” because, aside from anonymous abuse being distasteful, the council already had a perfectly adequate voice in public debate. “We don’t need to ‘plant’ material. We already get plenty of coverage.”

She says the FGC’s policy is one of persuasion based on “what does the science say?”
“I am not a person who does ‘hits’.”

Had the FGC paid for anonymous information, it would have been unethical and underhanded in many people’s view but in essence not too far removed from the strategies that parts of the media employ to promote their advertising clients as “influencers”.

The plaintiffs have also taken exception to the FGC’s regular public challenging of their work and advocacy, as though that, too, should be banned as defamatory.

Rich says her biggest lingering concern is that the case may have a “chilling” effect as the media and others infer that they can no longer challenge or question academics – let alone mock them. Any implication that academics should be oracles exempt from the “rough and tumble” of public debate would be riskily anti-democratic, she says.

Most of the abuse complained of was on the blog and its comment thread, which Rich argues puts it in a lower-credibility category than the normal threshold for damaging comments.

Rich is adamant she was unaware of Graham’s habit of posting anonymous comments scathing of the health academics as she made it a point never to read blog comments. “If someone won’t put their name to a comment, it’s not worth reading it.” She knew that Graham and Slater knew each other, “but Slater had a big network in those days”.

She says she “scanned” the major blogs and was aware of both men’s sceptical views about the opinions of New Zealand’s leading public-health activists.

But the council’s focus regarding the health advocates, she says, is on monitoring and fact-checking their public statements and research documents.

This may account for how the acrimony has mushroomed. The FGC has on a number of occasions challenged both the methodology and conclusions from their papers and studies. Asked to peer-review a paper Swinburn submitted to a journal in 2015, Rich found some information she believed needed correction, and the journal amended it accordingly. Swinburn then wrote to her saying the council had no right to have any input into that process.

The council has frequently irked health academics by challenging assertions that the Mexican tax on sugared drinks has reduced consumption. Rich says early academic studies were, for technical reasons, only capturing data from 60-70 per cent of the market.

Initially, consumption appeared to reduce, but now it’s as high as ever, as consumers have become used to the higher prices. The FGC bought and analysed data on total drinks sales transactions, which it says is the most accurate indication of volume. “We don’t just magic up our papers and comments out of thin air. We have a network of experts and access to overseas data. We look for the evidence.”

Another time, the council found serious flaws in a study that purported to show New Zealand children being exposed to an average of 27 junk-food ads a day.

Rich says it has been years since advertising targeting children was allowed. The advertising code, enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority, forbids the screening of any targeted food and beverage ads during children’s viewing hours. “In terms of the Milky Bar Kid and the Cookie Monster and the other ads I grew up with, there is just nothing like that.”

Confluence of interest

The gulf between the food sector and some academics yawns particularly wide when the latter engage in heavy lobbying, while saying the industry should be forbidden from engaging. “I utterly respect their right to present their findings in their fields of expertise,” says Rich. “And I accept that they have every right to criticise us. That’s how democracy should work. But so often they are being activists outside their field of expertise, and at that point their views carry no more weight than anyone else’s.”

That both sides are playing hard ball is understandable. The way people eat is making developed populations fatter and fatter, and inevitably money is at stake – but so are political fortunes. In a 2016 conference speech, Swinburn laid out a case to increase the pressure for change because he felt politicians weren’t getting the message.

He advocated presenting decision makers with benchmarking and monitoring-type measures of progress “because I think [they] speak to them much more loudly than a lot of other work that scientists do and publish in prestigious journals … We might not see this as sophisticated research but it is persuasive evidence.”

A particular sore point for Swinburn and Sellman’s academic cohort is Rich’s membership from 2011-2015 of Te Hiringa Hauora/Health Promotion Agency, a Government body with a $12 million budget to encourage public health through information and “nudge” behavioural campaigns.

Swinburn campaigned vigorously against her appointment, firing Official Information Act (OIA) demands for all Rich’s activities, statements and conflicts of interest. Investigations by the Auditor-General and State Services Commission found nothing amiss.

“He has since used his lobbying to urge them to change the rules defining what was a conflict of interest, citing me as a gross conflict.”

Rich would argue hers was a confluence of interest, rather than a conflict. Her appointment was to bring a practical, industry perspective to the table, along with marketing know-how. Before entering Parliament, Rich was a project analyst for the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, and for the Ministry of Agriculture. She also worked in wool marketing.

The Health Promotion Agency has no power to ordain or veto campaign content, but promoted campaigns such as “Slip, Slop, Slap” and “Not Beersies”.

“Yet whenever I have used the OIA, they [Swinburn and Sellman] characterise that as me intimidating politicians and using the might of Big Food, Big Alcohol, Big Tobacco.”

So “Big” is her industry group that the main reason they decided to settle with the two professors was that the likely $2 million cost of proceeding to a full trial was too steep.

“We’re an organisation with one and a half full-time employees. We represent 30,000 different grocery categories. This has been such a drain and such a distraction, we just didn’t feel it was worth it.”

The council wanted instead to put all its energy into the Commerce Commission market study of the supermarket sector and its own efforts to promulgate a code of conduct for supermarkets, drawn from some quite strict trading conditions imposed in other countries, including Britain and Australia.

Although its members do include multinationals such as Coca-Cola Amatil, Heinz Wattie’s and alcohol companies, New Zealand is a gnat on their radar. Numerically, the FGC overwhelmingly represents small and medium local businesses. The real power behind what ends up in people’s trolleys is the supermarket duopoly – the widely acknowledged power imbalance against grocery suppliers being the reason for the Commerce Commission investigation. No developed country in the world has such a concentrated supermarket sector.

Rich says although her academic detractors often call supermarkets drug pushers, the wholesome, unprocessed food the academics rightly want New Zealanders to eat is almost entirely supplied by her FGC members via supermarkets and the restaurant sector. Save for home-grown produce, most people get their fruit, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts and low-fat proteins from the very people the health activists accuse of helping to perpetuate obesity.

Politically motivated

A curious feature of this long food fight has been how often Rich has been singled out by the health-activist community, in contrast to those representing the beer, wine and hospitality industries. “I think it’s been politically motivated. Right from the start, it’s been ‘former National MP Katherine Rich’. I’ve even been elevated to the Cabinet by them.” Rich left politics just before National last took power. “It’s pretty extraordinary to have to correct basic facts, such as that I’ve never been a minister.

“Professor Sellman even said I was a leading campaigner for the commercialisation of alcohol. That in itself was quite defamatory, I think. I struggle to remember anything I ever said publicly about that, and the only thing I can think of is about the Law Commission’s report, that it was ‘more wowser than wow’, which was pretty tame.”

She also has a document showing a presentation at an academic conference, which put a photograph of her over some foul-mouthed abusive comments against health academics in quote marks. The comments had been taken from Whale Oil comment threads, but the clear implication intended was that she had said them. She has compiled a list of abuse of those in her industry, including Sellman calling a Christchurch supermarket owner his suburb’s biggest aspiring drug dealer. In a 2019 lecture, he said the alcohol industry was controlled by “white-collar sociopaths” and that New Zealand was a “British-American white supremacy colony and member of the five-eyes global spy gang”.

Whatever effect this case has domestically, the stakes in the obesity debate escalate every day – not least with obesity being a prime risk factor for coronavirus mortality. A new treatise on processed food, Hooked, by Michael Moss, postulates the physiological ways in which it can be more addictive than nicotine. On the other hand, it’s possible to date the explosion in this “clever” but unhealthy processed food to the 1980’s low-fat orthodoxy, when an academic cohort, with Swinburn at its apex here, demonised fat, saying sugar and carbohydrates were less harmful. In 1996, as Heart Foundation medical director, Swinburn said sugar was “way down the list” of dangerous foods, having only a small effect on heart health, and even on diabetes and tooth decay.

Orthodoxies change. These days, Swinburn is among those supporting a sugar tax. But although it is now the holy grail of health promotion advocates, such a tax is still not on the Government’s agenda.

One other thing that’s not on anyone’s agenda is a rapprochement between the opposing sides. In all their skirmishes the three plaintiffs and Rich have never met, or even spoken on the phone.

Source: Read Full Article