Q+A Panel: In response to Gareth Morgan interview
Q+A 29 September, 2013
Hosted by SUSAN WOOD
In response to GARETH MORGAN interview
SUSAN Dr Bryce Edwards, Heather Roy and Simon Wilson, welcome back. Well, that was entertaining, as it always is with Gareth Morgan. I’m sure that the complaints will be going off from cat- and dog-lovers about that. What did you think, Simon?
SIMON I think he’s right – not so much about the cat exports!
SUSAN Or eating dog.
SIMON But I do think he’s right about his approach to obesity. What I love about Gareth Morgan is he’s one of our few genuine public intellectuals. You know, and by that I mean someone who is prepared to look really critically and analytically at big issues, important issues, present them to us in ways that we can grasp hold of and debate in easy ways, and he’s not beholden. He doesn’t belong to a lobby group. He’s not a politician. He’s not saying for any political point-scoring or any of those reasons at all. He’s saying it because—
SUSAN ...to keep himself entertained.
SIMON Well, whether it’s because he’s just keeping himself entertained, I think you can probably say he also cares. And I love that he does that in this society. We need more people like Gareth Morgan.
HEATHER Yes, I don’t disagree. I think that’s probably right. But I thought that Gareth is definitely at his best when he talks about things that he knows about, so the economy he was very good, because he actually did then provide an academic voice or a well-informed voice about issues that he knew, and he was different from the mainstream. But now he’s actually putting forward mainstream ideas on a variety of things. And, look, labelling— When I was Minister of Consumer Affairs, I was responsible for labelling. It’s not a simple issue at all, and even the traffic light system, which sounds simple and wonderful, isn’t what it seems. If you look at green and red lights for fat, saturated fats, sodium or salt, and sugars – you know, diet drinks actually come out with all the green lights and milk comes out with all the oranges.
SUSAN Which is insane. So find a better system. Because that’s nuts.
SIMON That’s a nonsense argument. You have a really serious issue of obesity and if the argument is it’s too complicated to do anything about, well, that’s not going to work.
HEATHER No, I’m not saying it’s too complicated. I’m saying it’s not a simple matter, and he was saying it’s a very simple matter – give it to the health people. But, look, they’ve been struggling with this for a long time, and people don’t all suffer from the same diseases. The Heart Foundation tick is very good for registering fat content of products, but not for sugars, and so it tells diabetics absolutely nothing about the food.
SUSAN Let’s bring the politics into this with you, Bryce. I mean, in Australia, there has been a massive call from people to know what's in their food. There's a real, you know, groundswell. We don’t have that here, hence there doesn’t seem the political will to do anything about our food.
BRYCE I think it’s coming, and as opposed to the last issue about GM, I think this does resonate with a lot of people. And we’re seeing some strong technocratic solutions, but I’m not sure the politics are anything more than lousy, because it’s difficult to implement this, and we’ve seen recently in Denmark that they brought in a fat tax, which is the sort of thing that Gareth Morgan’s advocating, and then they abolished it a year later because it was not seen to be effective and it was a bureaucratic nightmare. So this really speaks to the fact that it’s not a simple left-right spectrum issue, which is really interesting. So, you know, I think left and right have got different things to—
HEATHER It’s actually a socio-economic issue, because the wealthy can afford to buy the healthy foods and the poor people can't. Putting a fat or a sugar—
SUSAN Buy a carrot. Buy a carrot. How much does a carrot cost?
SIMON I think it’s an overstated issue.
HEATHER That’s true, but—
SUSAN Buy fruit in season and veggies in season. Buy a pumpkin.
HEATHER But we’re not going to make those changes overnight, and you’ve got to take people with you. By imposing extra costs on foods which will automatically be passed on to people, you’re going to put huge costs on people who already struggle to put food on the table for their families.
SIMON And if you take that argument just a step further, if it is a socio-economic issue – and it is in part – what you’re effectively arguing is that it’s OK for poor people to be condemned to be addicted to food that is killing them.
HEATHER No. No, I’m not. I’m saying we’ve got to find—
SIMON Cos that’s effectively what we’re talking about.
HEATHER ...fair ways of encouraging people to eat the right foods.
SIMON We’ve got to find all sorts of ways – education—
HEATHER And actually I think it’s much more important that, you know, you turn TV on and it’s always food shows these days. Actually, the supermarkets are following through with that with their advertising—
SUSAN Cooking from scratch.
HEATHER ...of putting together $10 meals, for a family, of healthy food. Now, that’s the future. Gareth says there's no place in here for the market. Actually, there is. It’s a partnership that has to be engaged in so that the right signals are being sent.
SIMON It’s an important part of the future. It’s terrific those things are happening. As we saw in Dita De Boni’s clip, there's also a lot of education that’s happening, and it’s happening in schools, in communities, through churches in all sorts of ways. On its own, none of those things are going to change things significantly. We also need legislation. We also need real labelling about a really important food issue that will help, and the tax approach, clearly— If you look at the cigarettes as an example, tax approach and the idea that make fast foods not something that is a core part of everyone’s lives, but make it a treat, make it different—
SIMON You use all those things. That’s the way—
BRYCE Oh, I think the science isn’t settled on this issue, and we’re not going to agree on all this, and that’s why I think the government would just be making a big mistake to intervene like this now and follow Gareth Morgan’s advice. I think we need a lot more debate about it, which is good, having him come and do this.
SUSAN It is good, having a debate. What about regulating fast foods? Certainly we’ve seen areas talk about liquor stores. They’ve wanted to get liquor stores out of the communities, because, goodness me, you go to South Auckland and you can find liquor stores, you can find fast food. Should fast food be driven out of some of these communities?
BRYCE Well, I think that’s going to be very unpopular with a lot of voters, and that’s why this is lousy politics. I mean, Gareth Morgan might as well sort of join the Greens, because this is typical sort of Nanny State—
HEATHER Well, Gareth should. Gareth really does believe in the Nanny State on this issue, and what he should do is put himself forward for public office and be elected in to do that.
BRYCE I think there's a role for public intellectuals like Morgan.
SIMON That’s to argue that the only people allowed in the debate are people who want to be politicians or interest groups, and that isn’t the case.
HEATHER No, I’m saying he’s got a lot of ideas that he wants to impose things on people through government, so if he firmly believes in that, why isn’t he putting himself up?
SIMON You don’t have to become a Member of Parliament because you want a law.
HEATHER No, you don’t, but what he’s suggesting—
SUSAN Alright, we’ll leave it there. Thank you, panel.