The journalist versus the manufacturers

Wendyl Nissen

Wendyl Nissen

New Zealand Food & Grocery Council

New Zealand Food & Grocery Council

I’m watching with interest the unfolding spat between author-journalist Wendyl Nissen and food manufacturers, speaking through the Food and Grocery Council.

She says… They say…
New Zealand manufacturers are using additives banned in the UK and US. Her information is inaccurate and outdated and all the additives have both local and international Food Standards approval.
It’s based on thorough research and attention to detail. Her research appears to be solely based on Google … (and is) often simply wrong.
She’s exposing shocking food truths. She’s misleading the public.

Both parties have a lot on the line.

Journalists need a story (she is trying to sell her ‘Supermarket Companion‘ after all), while manufacturers can’t risk being tarred with the charge of using unsafe ingredients (despite the fact that they are legal here).

On the one hand…

Wendyl’s articles are a great idea. She takes a processed food product and demystifies its ingredients for readers, listing the good and the bad.

One assumes that if it were simple to refute Wendyl’s claims in the New Zealand Herald, the manufacturers would have taken libel action already (or perhaps that’s in process but we haven’t heard about it yet).

But on the other hand…

It’s so easy to subscribe to conspiracy theories of the big, bad manufacturer doing ‘unnatural’ things to foods. The fact is, manufacturers want to give you the products you want – that’s their job. So if people buy the more brightly coloured juice, they’d be fools not to put colourings into their juice, for example.

Monosodium-glutamate is a classic example of an additive which manufacturers have removed from their products because shoppers began to choose to avoid it. Now, the evidence against MSG is shaky at best – my takeaways from reading it is that MSG is about as bad for you as salt, and the most dangerous thing about it is that it’s addictive. Which may indeed be enough for you to decide not to eat it – but at least make an informed decision. It’s not as fundamentally harmful as the lobby against it would make you think.

My point is, we can cause unjustified harm to our producers (who, by the way, are the main thing bringing wealth into New Zealand), based on bad science and uninformed hysteria.

In conclusion…

The great thing about it is that the conversation is happening. Journalists like Wendyl speaking out mean we can make our own judgement about the additives in question.


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