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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Duckworth-Lewis Food Labelling

Posted by on December 9th, 2012

Buried inside a media release about innovative health food claims from Kate Wilkinson’s office late on Friday was the news that National has, predictably, let industry interests trump public health on the issue of front-of-pack food labelling.

With obesity and diabetes being the most pressing health challenges New Zealand (like other developed nations) is facing, helping people take better control of their own nutrition is absolutely vital.

Choice is important and there is no point in sanctimoniously dictating to people what they should and should not eat, but we can provide simple information and signals to help people make informed decisions.

The right thing to do is establish a universal and simple-to-read ‘traffic light’ type system that people can easily interpret whilst doing their shopping.

What was announced was not a new system but a report prepared by an advisory group  consisting of both industry and health representatives. (Oddly the Health Promotion Agency and its predecessor the Health Sponsorship Council are not represented. Perhaps Kate Wilkinson thought Katherine Rich could wear both her conflicting hats at the same time while she represented the  Food and Grocery Council).

Kate Wilkinson says the report identifies a set of principles that will provide a useful guide to food businesses that want to adopt front of pack labelling.

So it’s voluntary which means the manufacturers of those foods that people need to eat sparingly will avoid it like the plague.

It’s also complicated with foods to be compared within categories, not with all other foods and using a points system rather than the simple traffic light system. In a win for the PC brigade, negative labels will not be used, only varying degrees of positive labels.

Incredibly, it suggests that the really bad foods, the ones with no positive nutritional value should have no label at all.

By the the time I finished reading it I was surprised the group hadn’t recommended shoppers use the Duckworth-Lewis method to determine what foods they should buy.

Predictable but nevertheless disappointing.  Once again National shows it has no concept of public health and is happy to keep pouring money into the treatments it chooses and putting more strain on the health system in the future.

I think that the best system is this one developed by Sanitarium. It combines individual nutrient ratings with an overall rating while still retaining the simple traffic light approach. This is what we should be pursuing.

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The curious case of the missing milk (inquiry)

Posted by on August 12th, 2011

I’m feeling somewhat bemused today. I sit on the Commerce Select Committee. I have to be very careful what I say, because under standing orders I’m not allowed to discuss what happened while the committee was “in committee”.

It’s a matter of public record that the committee met yesterday to discuss the terms of reference which will determine the scope of the inquiry.

But when this media release popped into my inbox this morning from the chair, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Commerce Spokesperson

11 August 2011                                                             MEDIA STATEMENT
Commerce Committee milk pricing inquiry

Labour’s Commerce Spokesperson and Commerce Committee chair, Lianne Dalziel, says she understands people will be disappointed that the Committee has not issued a statement about progress on discussions on the terms of reference for the proposed milk pricing inquiry.

“I know there is a high level of public interest around this. However Standing Orders prevent the chair of the Select Committee issuing a statement on behalf of the committee unless that statement is fully authorised by the committee.

“I regret I can say no more than that at this stage,” Lianne Dalziel said.

Contact: Lianne Dalziel 0275 480 644.

Paid for by Vote Parliamentary Service and Authorised by Lianne Dalziel, Parliament Buildings, Wellington

Immediately after the committee finished sitting yesterday, a group of journalists headed towards myself and Lianne Dalziel who remained in the committee room. They asked whether the terms of reference for the inquiry had been determined and what the outcome was.

Lianne replied, in front of other witnesses, including some National Party MPs,  that she could not say until an agreed statement was released, which was expected to happen later that day. Surely this meant it would.

But it didn’t. Instead we get this release above. I wonder what happened in the interim? I’d like to say but my lips are sealed.

However, I just read this story on the Stuff website. Intriguing.

Even the Aussies get it (sort of)

Posted by on August 2nd, 2011

The Kiwi food that can’t (or won’t) be improved

Untouchable ... the cheese roll.
Sydney Morning Herald
August 2, 2011 – 1:37PM
Untouchable … the cheese roll.
Chris frowns for a couple of seconds, then shakes his head. “Nup.”
“You sure?” I plead. “I reckon it’d be good.”
He shakes his head again. “Nup.”

And that’s it: my grand plan for revolutionising the cheese roll, for taking a simple snack into a new stratosphere of gastronomic excellence, for shaking the cheese-roll-eating community to its very foundations, is scuppered by one word: nup.

Apparently, residents of Dunedin, in New Zealand, don’t take kindly to Aussie-come-latelys attempting to improve on a local tradition. Some things are brilliant in their simplicity and cheese rolls are, apparently, some of those things. The message I’m getting is loud and clear: if the cheese roll ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.

I am, admittedly, a cheese roll rookie. Ten minutes before my suggestion, I’d never even heard of the things, let alone pondered ways to improve them.

It’s almost incredible there could be a foodstuff in the Western world I hadn’t already heard of – not because I’ve done a lot of travelling but because in this shrunken, globalised world of ours, word usually gets around pretty quickly about anything that’s good.

Read more:

I think Trevor’s irrational dislike of cheese rolls is an aberration

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Filed under: food, humour

John Key speeds away from Struggle Street in new BMW

Posted by on May 4th, 2011

Recently a Timaru Woman, Melissa Voice, challenged John Key to spend a few days in her shoes to find out how much of a financial struggle life can be.

Melissa is a single mum with two children. She works, she is debt free and lives within her means. She is doing all the right things but is still finding life a financial struggle. Like many Kiwis she is going backwards.

Her request to meet with John Key isn’t unreasonable – he has been PM for 2 ½ years now, during which time the cost of living has far outpaced incomes. This despite promising that everyone would be better off with him at the helm.

Melissa Voice should be applauded for speaking out and I will be more than happy to meet with her when I am next in Timaru.

For John Key, meeting everyday New Zealanders like Melissa Voice and hearing their stories should be a golden opportunity to show he is in touch with their concerns.

Clearly though, these kinds of meetings don’t meet his test of what is a good media “photo op”.

Mr Key has also recently declined invitations to spend time at food banks to see first-hand how tough life is for growing numbers of Kiwis.

Food banks around the country have reported a massive increase in demand for food banks and some like the one here in Wellington have run out of food, for the first time since the 1990s.

John Key and his government have brought in policies that have made most middle and low income people worse off, including raising gst at a time of rising prices, giving the lion’s share of tax cuts to the well off, increasing the cost of ECE and increasing ACC charges and doctors’ fees.   

The least he can do is face them when asked why.

Tell the Government: Don’t Cut Our Future!

Posted by on April 27th, 2011


t Cut Our Future

Weltec orientation subdued but ok

Posted by on March 2nd, 2011


The traditional MPs shout – sausages – at Weltec orientation was quieter at times and stopped altogether for the two minutes silence yesterday.

Most MPs attend orientations at tertiary institutions in their region – for me it is Vic and Weltec.

Rino Tirikatene and Mea’ole Keil worked the bbq with me and a good Labour team helped us out.

I find it a really good way to quickly and informally catch up with hundreds of students and staff most of whom are constituents, and also to make contact with some younger people who offer to be active in poltics.

The amount some students can eat never ceases to amaze me. After one guy who looked fairly fit came up for his second set of four we did limit them to two at a time.

And just for the record – sausages outside campaign time are not treating under the Electoral Act.

Government should act on folic acid

Posted by on January 19th, 2011

Today I released a press statement supporting the need for Folate in bread. News Talk ZB picked it up however they were light on facts. This is what they reported.

This is the release that was sent out:

Government should act on folic acid

 Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson should stop ignoring the strong statistics showing that standardised folate in bread and flour would reduce Spina Bifida cases in New Zealand and save taxpayers millions of dollars, says Dr Ashraf Choudhary.

“It’s time Kate Wilkinson pulled her head out of the sand. Three slices of bread containing folate a day could save $39 million per year and most importantly could prevent up to 14 Spina Bifida cases annually.”

Labour’s Food Safety spokesperson says Australia introduced mandatory fortification after a comprehensive, rigorous safety assessment by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). The decision to add folic acid to bread flour has paid off with significant improvements in levels of folate in Australians.

Other countries that fortify flour include Canada, the United States and Chile.

“It’s time New Zealand did the same,” said Dr Choudhary.

There is considerable support for compulsory folate in bread, including from Wellington Hospital Paediatric Surgeon Brendon Bowkett, who operates on Spina Bifida children in New Zealand.

A study Dr Bowkett, conducted with Otago University student Eamonn Deverall, showed that in 2006 there were six cases of anencephaly, 13 live births with spina bifida and about 30 terminations for neural tube defects. Dr Bowkett said these statistics could dramatically decline if folate in bread was made compulsory.

A pilot study of six teenagers with Spina Bifida and other neural tube defects also found the direct surgery and hospital costs for each child, from their birth, were $944,000.

A New Zealand Food Safety Authority investigation recommended mandatory fortification on average 130µg per 100g of bread for Australia and NZ.

The previous Labour-led Government had joined with Australia and approved moves to add folate to bread in 2007. But in 2009, the National Government pulled out of the agreement, while Australia went ahead.

“It’s important that women in their early stages of pregnancy receive enough folate to help avoid cases such as Spina Bifida and other neural tube defects. I am also concerned that the communities who make their own bread at home are not getting any folate because it is not added to the flour. It’s time this Government took action on this issue.”

Filed under: food

Follow the money – and find Wong

Posted by on November 24th, 2010

Not unusual for John Key and Pansy Wong to eat with large groups of  Chinese people in Bellamys.

Pansy collected these and many other cheques which were assumed to going to the National Party – we thought they were being laundered through the Waitemata or other National Party controlled trusts.

But now we know that in fact the money has been paid into an account controlled by Pansy and Sammy Wong.

No wonder Key doesn’t want her to resign – he wants to collect the money variously decribed as hundreds of thousands and well over a million.

Cheese rolls to parliament

Posted by on July 19th, 2010

On a lighter note, as I’ve promised, I’m bringing cheese rolls to parliament tomorrow.

Eight dozen to be precise.

A few dozen to caucus for morning tea (not everyone will get one though and you know who you are!).

The rest are up for grabs. If you’re hanging out for a cheese roll and feeling nostalgic for the south, contact me.

Doesn’t matter who you are.

Update (photo by Lianne):

cheese rolls

Don’t send those old ewes to the works

Posted by on July 17th, 2010

Like most MPs spent recess time in electorate and doing portfolio stuff.

One of my RWC visits was to the stadium to get briefing on the training that has been put in place for the thousands of new staff that will be taken on next year for bar and catering operations. Getting specialist senior staff through the recently tightened Immigration Service maze is a real issue.

Chatted with a couple of young men who are just finishing chef’s modern apprenticeship. Talk about being employable.

But one thing that became clear is that there is a danger of being short of chicken and lamb if planning doesn’t improve. And decisions made now will make the difference.

So there are bonuses in the Rugby World cup even for roosters and rams.

Cheese rolls rule

Posted by on July 7th, 2010

 The cheese roll is a culinary icon. I’ve been saying it for ages. It’s ok if you North Islanders don’t get it. Coz we don’t care. All the more for us.

But it’s for real. The NZ International Science Festival is happening in Dunedin this week.  The theme is Food for Thought. Amazingly, and interestingly, the cheese roll is a focus. There was a competition for the best recipe. Here’s the link to the TVNZ piece

Joy Jones’ recipe was chosen as the best of 81 entries. I’ll be contacting her to get some.

I’m bringing cheese rolls to parliament at the beginning of the next session. I know who wants them (and who doesn’t)

I should have been there today (at the cheese rolls comp). But couldn’t be in two places at once. But as many of us know, cheese rolls rule.

One MP’s Perk

Posted by on June 12th, 2010

Years  ago I more or less stopped judging competitions in the electorate. Mainly no win politically.

The three year old who throws a tantrum because her sand saucer didn’t win, how much looking is necessary/appropriate with the young women in the beauty contest and the increased blood pressure that made me look like a ginga when one winked at me, or the eleven mothers who know that their baby is better looking than the one I chose.

But I relented for today and agreed to judge a tiramisu challenge. Prepared by riding bike and meeting constituents.

And what a contrast. One pretty much classic. Beautiful, classy and lots of it.

The other an unsubtle attempt to intoxicate. Variety of liquor and very strong expresso.

Went for the second and offered to judge again next year.

Sure beats cheese rolls.

BUDGET 2010: Neither Fair Nor Fixing

Posted by on May 20th, 2010

It’s Budget Day.  You’ll be hearing lots from us over the next few days and I hope many of you will join our Finance Team live here on Red Alert tonight at 8.30 pm.

Most New Zealanders already understand that a Budget that (at best) delivers only marginal gain to middle and lower income earners and a whopping great windfall to the top end, is not fair.  It is however, precsely what you would expect from National.

Equally important, the Budget as it has been foreshadowed will not fix the underlying problems of this economy: lack of savings, skills, innovation and exports.  These are exactly the themes Labour is pushing – as reflected in todays Dominion and Herald (note the Herald got the headline wrong).

If you don’t believe me on this – just refer to Swtizerland’s IMD World Competitiveness Ranking, which shows NZ slipping back for exactly the reasons Labour has been saying. 

Think about it, if the problems are insufficient savings, exports, skills and innovation, how on earth is raising GST and an income tax windfall for the wealthiest possibly going to address that?

It proves our underlying critique of this visionless National Government –  they had “nine long years” to think up policies to take the country forward, to deliver on the step change they campaigned for – and so far, nothing.

Who wants a cheese roll?

Posted by on May 16th, 2010


I haven’t done a cheese roll post for a while. But I am concious that there’s a group of cheese roll fans (fanatics) out there in Wellie who might appreciate one or two (or nine!).

I’ve just ordered a bunch of them from a school fundraiser. Shall I bring them to Parliament and how do you want them? Frozen or cooked?


And if you don’t want to comment on Red Alert I’m happy to have emails;

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Filed under: food

Diversity in Nelson

Posted by on May 10th, 2010


Victory Primary School in Nelson is a brilliant example of a school leading a community and a community backing a school. It is Decile 2, yes they do have Decile 2 in Nelson – in fact there are lots of poorer people in this beautiful place.

Victory Primary has been on a pathway to improve educational standards but worked out that there were lots of heath, welfare and community issues that were holding students back.

The school has become a hub for early childhood education, health (including nurse, doctor, midwifery and diabetes) services and the new hall has rooms used by housing, CYFS and WINZ. The local bakery drops off bread and people collecting it often work through their issues with final year counselling students.

The school has a hangi area that is booked weeks in advance and has become a real community centre.

Teachers have a really positive attitude, they deal with issues and the school has stopped suspending or excluding students.

Really worth looking at.  Thanks.

Food for Thought 2

Posted by on April 22nd, 2010

Food prices have been topical this week.

On Tuesday I raised the issue of  rising food prices during question time.  When the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Heather Roy was previously asked about how Kiwi families could combat rising food prices, her advice was to “shop around”.  The Finance Minister, Bill English confirmed her advice but failed to address the real point of my question which is that Kiwi families can’t shop around increases in GST which will further increase food prices.

The next day there was an interesting article in the Herald about the relationship between a food supplier and one of the two major supermarket chains in New Zealand.  Irrespective of the particular case covered in the article there were some interesting questions of  more general application:

  • Given the dominance of the two supermarket chains and the pressure they can exert  how can food suppliers obtain a fair return?
  • If prices paid to supplier are ‘screwed down’  who benefits – are prices reduced for consumers or are the profits of the supermarket chains increased?
  • To what degree is there anti competitive behaviour in our supermarket industry?  It was interesting to see the reference to legal advice about cartel behaviour being sought by the the National Distribution Union

I will be following both Mr Rai’s complaint to the Commerce Commission and any actions by the NDU with interest.   Consumers are very reliant on supermarket companies for something that is fundamental – food.  We need to have scrutiny on whether these powerful companies and their behaviour to consumers and suppliers. 

And then there is the question of how those who work in the food industry are treated.

Food for Thought

Posted by on April 8th, 2010

Over Easter I had a chance to get into our vegetable garden.  Harvested the last of the tomatoes, some chillies and got things tidied up for planting more cauliflower, broccoli and broad beans.   Most of my life I have had a vegetable garden and have been able to grow some of the food I eat, an enormously satisfying experience I worry is increasingly less common.

Fruit and vegetables have come up quite often in recent conversations.  I hear about (and see) the good work happening in a number of our schools where vegetables are grown and compost bins tended.  A budget adviser told me that in England there is a requirement for schools to have fruit trees to give students access to fresh fruit.  I’m not sure how this works but it didn’t seem to be a bad idea.  Both of these approaches provide fresh healthy food to young people (for some, from families struggling to make ends meet and where food is scarce, this is a practical help)  and show young people that food is something you can grow (not just buy in the supermarket). 

In fact in a country like New Zealand with a natural advantage in producing food we should maximise opportunities to encourage people to grow food.  Even those with limited space can grow produce like tomatoes and salad greens in containers.

It is scandalous that fresh healthy food which we can grow easily is as expensive as it is.  It is not the producers who are making huge profits from fruit and vegetables but supermarkets are a different story.   I was interested in a feature in the Sunday Star Times particularly the comments about industrialised (processed) foods, the food industry, natural foods and about the importance of cooking (another skill that is not as widespread as it once was it seems).  

Food is one of our fundamental needs.  Despite this as a result of poverty too many people globally including some in New Zealand do not have  an adequate and regular supply of the food they need.   Food is something that is huge business.  If you look at the worlds largest companies food producers and retailers are right up there – huge, profitable global corporates with enormous purchasing and marketing power.

For all of these reasons (and for our health) lets ensure we hold on to the skills of growing and cooking  food.

On the local and immediate, one final request following a conversation with a local food bank – if you have surplus fruit or vegetables give it to the food bank.  They are generally unable to provide fresh food and some of the food that goes to waste (think ahead to the forthcoming feijoa season) can make a difference.