The case for banning Aspartame in New Zealand foods


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.

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.



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.

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.

Second firearms overhaul announced

The Government has announced the impending second tranche of firearms legislation. The announcement was made following the second of several gun amnesty collection days to recover firearms that had been made illegal in the wake of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks.

When the Government announced its plans for dealing wit New Zealand’s arsenal of military grade automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it was intended to happen in two phases. The first, immediate phase, would quickly end the legality to own weapons such as the AR-15 which was used in the Christchurch terrorist attacks. This was the emergency legislation that was pushed through Parliament at speed in March and was enforceable by the end of the same month.

Because a lot of New Zealanders are unaware of Parliamentary process there was a perception that the Government intended to confiscate peoples firearms without whim or reason. This was despite the government being clear that it was intended to be a temporary stop gap measure whilst more comprehensive legislation was drafted. The perception, which was rumoured to have been enabled by American firearm lobbyists, was coldly met by politicians from both sides of Parliament with the exception of A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour.

It would be followed by the much more comprehensive and permanent legislation that would set in law a tighter regime around the acquisition and ownership of such firearms. In the meantime there would be amnesty days up and down the country where people with firearms that had been banned could be surrendered to the Police at drop off points. The owners of the guns being surrendered would be given an indication as to how much they would receive in financial compensation for handing them over.

The Police acknowledge that there are many guns that they probably do not know about. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 potentially illegal firearms are thought to be circulating within New Zealand.

The new laws will target those with criminal histories; people with mental health issues including those who might have tried to use a gun to kill themselves. Those who are espousing open violence against society or particular individuals or groups of individuals are also likely to be seen as a red flag to Police when issuing gun licences. A firearms register will be established by the Police, and the cost of maintaining the firearms licencing office will be better offset by changes in the cost of licencing. New offences and the matching penalties are also likely to be added.

This time there will be a select committee period lasting three months. There will be substantial time for firearm advocates and firearm safety advocates to get their messages into submissions and prepare for hearings in front of the Select Committee. This was, contrary to the honest beliefs of some, always intended to happen – there was never any intention to block the permanent tranche of legislation from public scrutiny.

The state of Maori health investment: Not all that healthy

The Ministry that governs Maori Affairs, Te Puni Kokiri is under fire after a tribunal released its findings into why Maori health continues to consistently under perform. Te Puni Kokiri was the subject of a damning assessment by the Waitangi Tribunal Health Services and Outcomes Inquiry that found it had systemically abused its responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi to Maori. And as the dust slowly begins to settle, the ghosts in the closet from the failings of several successive Governments are starting to emerge.

Te Puni Kokiri was found in breach by the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal on grounds of having ignored the principles of good governance and active protection.

But it is more than just a breach of two principles that the Ministry should have known about, understood and respected the purpose of. It is also about the billions of dollars over the last 20 years that have been invested into Maori health, about the relationship of Maori on the subject of health and the Crown which is responsible for funding and resourcing, but also setting objectives, and the policies to give effect to those objectives.

In short this is a substantial red flag that has been waved at Maori health. It is one that will unsettle a lot of people in Iwi and hapu, in the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards. I expect that the Minister of Health, David Clark, will issue a media statement or two to fend off the media and answer initial questions. But deep down he must be thinking “how do I undo 2 decades worth of badly invested money and resources? Do I need to set up a Maori Health panel or other body and if so how?”

For me though, some of the problems are staggeringly obvious. This is entirely why we have performance monitoring of government agencies. This is entirely why performance targets exist and when they are not the relevant officials find out why and make sure that they start being met. The fact that such obviously needed monitoring is not happening makes me wonder if there is a larger, more systemic problem in how we govern this country because it is not nuclear physics.

I can totally understand the anger and the frustration that must be coursing through the health workers in the front line. Te Puni Kokiri was meant to conduct reviews on a regular basis of District Health Boards to make sure that they were meeting their responsibilities to Maori. Between 1993 and 2004 only four reviews were carried out despite consistently poor performance outputs, and no mention has been made of reviews since then.

What needs to happen is that the management of Te Puni Kokiri are put on notice. Hire a statutory manager to oversee how those changes that are recommended are implemented and send packing anyone who cannot or will not get with the programme. Maori have every right to feel like they and their whanau, their mokopuna have been failed.

So too, does the New Zealand taxpayer who will rightfully wonder what went on.