The case for banning Aspartame in New Zealand foods


CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE.

You see this on a range of soft drink labels in New Zealand and often it is alongside CONTAINS CAFFEINE.

We talk about caffeinated beverages being used to keep people awake through out the day. We talk about the sugar content of these drinks as being one of the major medical issues regarding soft drinks, including the so-called “diet range” that includes Sprite, Diet Coke and others. But how much do we know about Aspartame, which is found in phenylalanine?

In 2018, concerned with my growing waistline, I started looking at ways I could turn things around. I cut back a bit on portion sizes, stopped eating generally after 7.30PM at night and started going for aggressive 1 hour walks once a week. After seeing a hypnotherapist in February 2018 who across two sessions a week apart came up with a plan for me. After going through my eating habits she asked me if I was drinking Diet Coke or Coke Zero. I said both and on rare occasions Sprite as well, all three of which contain phenylalanine.

Whilst there Aspartame is approved in over 100 countries, it is true that it has 200x the sweetness of normal sugar. It is though nowhere near the 7,000x that another sweetener called neotame has (Yang, 2010).

I think the single biggest thing we can do to end the obesity crisis in New Zealand is ban aspartame. In the United States it can be found in 6,000 products. I imagine given the propensity of New Zealand to follow American consumer patterns a similarly horrendously large number here probably have it.

This could be complimented by taking potato chips, soft drinks and confectionery out of school canteens and hospital snack vending machines, and replacing them with fruit, filled rolls and water.

I expect that banning aspartame will provoke a reaction from Coca Cola and other manufacturers whose products have aspartame in them. Qing Yang in a 2010 paper published in the Yale Biological Medical Journal however explains how aspartame and other super artificial sweeteners have not contributed to weight loss and how the reverse might actually be true.

Some have pointed out that only those with phenylketonuria need to worry about the hazards of aspartame. They point to it allegedly breaking down in the body. But when aspartame breaks down it breaks down into phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. Perhaps true, but I noted when I looked the European Union Food Safety Authority sheet on aspartame that it ignored weight loss/gain which is one of the key reasons it gets raised as an issue in the first place.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314345.php

Sugar taxes have been consistently mooted by some researchers and health campaigners, but they face substantial political hurdles. Politicians on the left might support them as a way of dissuading consumers from consuming products with aspartame in it, but those on the right are likely to undo it.

Pragmatically in New Zealand, any sugar tax will probably run into resistance from very obvious quarters. National is not likely to support sugar tax, on ideological grounds of tax not being the answer. A.C.T. will definitely not support such a move and my guess is that in their first term in Government such a measure would be repealed fairly quickly.

 

 

The corrective challenge facing Corrections


As we watch the latest violent crimes in New Zealand, no doubt there will be – justified – calls for prisoners to be locked up indefinitely and the key thrown away. There will be calls for cold showers and little or no leisure time. Why give them things that many people outside of jail cannot afford say the proponents?

Umm…. perhaps because sooner or later, with the exception of the very worst, most are going to be released. When they are released the public are going to need to know and be assured that the Joe Prisoner who went in four years ago for aggravated assault now no longer poses a threat, has learnt his lesson and wants to become an actively contributing member of society.

But for that to happen, they must be in a prison environment that acknowledges them as humans who have made a mistake. The ones who are open, honest and show genuine remorse are likely to be out at some point and we need to know that they are ready for release – that they can go and live somewhere and be able to cook their own food, find a job and so on. Locking them up and throwing away the key; degrading them with abuse and demeaning punishments will not achieve that. It will make them worse.

The last thing New Zealand needs is for our court system to wind up like the United States, where privatized prisons are common. These for profit businesses are no way to manage criminals and their pursuit of the almighty dollar over and above being a facility where prisoners do their time and hopefully learn from their wrongs.

But National thought in its nine year tenure that such a model was indeed acceptable practice for managing prisons. Thus we wound up with Mt Eden Fight Club where staff and prisoners regularly duelled and prisoners would encourage fights that would get recorded on camera. And the defenders of such a wayward model seemed to think that prisoners do not deserve better, which suggests to me that the management of prisons then were not serious about the welfare of the prisoners.

This is where one can argue that prisons at that point risk becoming an environment where the inmates develop a festering hatred or anger towards society that they do not know how to keep in check. Thus when a prisoner has done his/her time and is ready for release, the authorities are not so much releasing a prisoner determined to make amends for their wrongs, but a prisoner who is a ticking time bomb likely to commit in the very near future a serious offence .

Has the Labour-led Government learnt from the disastrous experience of having Serco, a multinational that has prison contracts for a host of countries including Australia, run our prisons? Has it learnt from the Mt Eden Fight Club videos that were leaked to media, and made the then Minister for Corrections go into hiding?

I am not sure what the current Minister for Corrections, Kelvin Davis has learnt.

Maybe Mr Davis should look to other countries with different management models than the United States. Finland for example has prisons where there are no guards or gates. One can do a university degree. They can learn to do manual labour and .

It was not always like this in Finland. In the 1960’s it and its Nordic neighbours had some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. The authorities, trying to figure out how to bring them down, started looking at the conditions that the prisoners were imprisoned in. They found that if one imprisons them and then starts to gradually but progressively reimmerse them in normal civilian life, a marked drop in reoffending rates occur.

Similarly Norway has found that its prisoner population is much less prone to recidivism. Prisoners and prison officers mingle interactively. The macho culture of the 1960’s where prisoners were locked up, given little in the way of opportunities to reform, to understand right from wrong and recidivism rates of 60-70% were banished.

Serco might be gone from the New Zealand prison system, but its legacy lingers on. The legacy is that New Zealanders have seen how a profits first prisoners second model can lead to significantly worsened management. They have seen how a dangerously toxic environment where recidivism rates remain high can see prisoners are released in a worse mental than that they went in with.

But will the Government have the courage to do something bold, or will it continue to copy an obviously failed model?

 

 

N.Z.F. wants abortion referendum, but legislation has the numbers


New Zealand First wants the recently announced abortion legislation to go to a referendum. The move came as the pro and anti-abortion lobby groups marshal their forces for the coming scrap. This may sound like a description of foes getting ready for war, but when one looks at how quickly abortion can turn into an intensely personal argument, in many ways it might just as well be.

Per New Zealand First’s 15 Fundamental Principles, all substantive issues not recorded in in the party manifesto shall go to a referendum. When I asked about this whilst a New Zealand First member it was explained that this was intended to be the party’s way of saying don’t rely on us to make your minds up on this: Have your Say!

Some have told me that this is a cop out by Members of Parliament too scared to take a side. I guess though in response New Zealand First could argue that the conscience vote is a cop out – is a Member of Parliament in your electorate with totally different views to yours deciding “NO” on something you want them to say “YES” to, really working for you?

I get that there are concerns that there might be abuse of abortion if it the law changes. I wonder how many women were given all the information they needed and had the process fully explained to them before they made their minds up. At the same time though, I noticed that there were people who said that they were basically made to be dishonest so that the doctors who had to make the decision would proceed with a procedure that in many cases the woman actually did need.

But what has always annoyed me is the inevitable accusations of murder that come out of the mouths of the conservative anti-abortion lobby. Well, wouldn’t knowingly letting a woman die from complications caused by a pregnancy gone wrong also be murder? I am certainly aware of cases where a woman would have died had she not terminated her unborn. And we also have to ask, what message is that sending a loving partner/fiance/husband/wife of the pregnant lady should have to lose their forever person just to appease someone with no reasonable stake in the matter?

But it is not the one that annoys me the most. That will be forever and always, those cases that arise out of sexual violence. In that case the decision is solely that of the victim. No one else has a stake in the matter.

So, I look forward to seeing this legislation pass. New Zealand First might have meant well sending it to a referendum, and maybe it will go there, but if it does I hope New Zealanders come together to decisively support a long overdue change in very outdated legislation.

Police right to savage “volunteer” constabulary in rural N.Z.


When one joins the Police force they know that there might be a moment when someone high on drugs or armed, or otherwise dangerous tries to put the officer attempting to arrest them in grave danger. The 9,000+ sworn officers on duty understand this and have been trained to do deal with such instances. They have families or partners that they want to go home to at the end of their shift; friends that they want to see again and a Police force that needs the expertise they bring.

Which is why I am loss to understand the rationale behind a New Zealand First proposal that got savaged by the Police for the introduction of a volunteer rural constabulary. Being a rural Police officer is risky enough. Being one who is there because s/he volunteered to be a rural officer is in my opinion plain nuts.

Whilst the rural communities were right to be concerned about rustling of stock, which has been on the rise in recent years as well as security of property from vandalism, the theft of honey, this was not an appropriate way to address it. New Zealand First’s significant rural membership might have proposed this by way of remitry at the Party convention that year and if so, it must have survived the vote at the end of the remit. However that does not change the fact that it was not properly thought through and raised as many questions as it managed to answer.

Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, received a briefing paper that he refused to release. Stuff, and National M.P. and shadow spokesperson for Police Chris Bishop also requested a copy. Both were turned down.

The Police rebuttal of this idea went along the lines of:

“Police does not recommend introducing a Special Constabulary in New Zealand. Recruiting volunteers to undertake policing operations and apply police powers comes with a range of significant risks for the community and the volunteers,”

The Police said that it would be perceived as policing on the cheap, with risks exacerbated in the community without proper constabulary support. Concerns were raised about the sort of training that they would be given, the support that would be available in complex situations and what kind of resourcing they would be given.

I further imagine that complex concerns in terms of access to appropriate vehicles, weapons training, understanding and interpretation of their rights and responsibilities as volunteers would also arise. What type of hold would constitute reasonable force if they were confronted by an aggressive person? Would they have access to the digitized police radio channels and if not, who would pass the message on in an emergency?

It would also raise ethical questions. To be a member of the Police force is not a minor thing. It means one has made it through a significant period of training, but also has attributes and mental stamina that a lot of people would struggle with. Is it fit and proper to be developing a voluntary force of officers whose interpretation of their job is not as precise as what would be expected of a sworn officer? I am not sure that it is.

 

Abort the abortion law change? No thanks!


Abortion. The very word in a medical context or a religious context is enough to provoke a very emotive, not necessarily properly informed, and sometimes deliberately misleading debate. And yet, at the same time, there is no doubt regardless of which side of the debate one is on, it cuts right to that most fundamental, most inalienable right – to that of life. I deliberately sit on the fence here. Not because I have no empathy or heart, but because to make an accurate assessment of the issue without being partial to one aspect or another, one needs to be remote.

It has been commented many times over that very often the people making the moral calls about abortion in places of authority such as Government ministries or in churches are men with no understanding of the biological changes a woman must experience in the course of pregnancy. It is probably the most profound thing a woman will have happen to their body. They have no understanding of the medical hazards a woman who is pregnant must navigate through successfully to give birth. Or they DO have the understanding, but either their individual principles or – if they are working for a Government ministry – political ideology or other indoctrination gets in the way.

Which is why I was delighted that today it was announced New Zealand will permit abortions up to 20 weeks. It is part of a sweeping law change that will liberalise the 1977 Sterilisation, Contraception and Abortion Act, . The compromise reached derives from the liberal position that the medical establishment wanted which said that there should be no statutory test at all and the more conservative position that wanted a statutory test to determine whether there is a heart beat at an early stage.

I have no problems with a medical test being done. For me the test should be more construed as a medical check up, rather than some sort of red line or other limitation on abortion.

Now we watch the opposition mobilize. I expect to see massive opposition from religious groups. Conservative pro-life organizations such as Right to Life however will strongly resist this happening, saying that the sanctity of life from conception to ones natural death is endangered by abortion. On their website R.t.L. have the following stated aim:

To work purposefully towards, the achievement of the realisable ideal of no abortions within our society

There are however two massive and – in my view fundamental – flaws to Right to Life’s argument. First, Right to Life in no way acknowledge that a victim of rape or incest was subject to a grave criminal offence against her will. Second, if the female develops medical complications in any pregnancy brought on by the act of rape, again the choice as to whether she aborts or not should be hers alone. It should also be exempt in all respects from Section 187A of the Crimes Act (see below).

Another group, Family First, headed by Bob McCroskie are calling it “deeply anti-human rights”. Which is interestingly hypocritical because guess what Mr McCroskie? Women make up half the worlds population and have human rights just like us and one of those rights is an absolute right to life. Are you trying to say that that most holy of human rights is not inalienable when it comes to women? That is the intonation.