Dodgy petition secretly changed

Carrick Graham outlines how the organisers of an anti-sugar petition have quietly changed the wording of their petition after being busted for lying.

Late yesterday, the organisers of a sugar petition suddenly changed the wording of their online ‘Petition for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages’ at

This followed criticism on multiple blogs, including Kiwiblog, which called it ‘A misleading petition’.

The sugar tax petition said that “New Zealand has a problem. We are the third fattest nation in the world”. This is not true, and Kiwiblog provided reference to the WHO database for obesity by country that showed New Zealand ranked 29th, not third as claimed by the petition organisers.

Now some would say that changing the wording of the petition to be factually correct is a good thing. Perhaps, but one would have thought that an explanation would be required to the 4,000 odd people that signed this online petition about why the sudden change of wording was needed.

As a result of this change, you have a situation where the petition organisers have been misleading the signatories about the New Zealand’s place in worldwide obesity rankings.

Simply put, changing the wording of a petition three-quarters of the way through – after being found to be inaccurate – reeks of ‘oh well never mind, it’s all right, it doesn’t really matter’.

But it isn’t right. And it does matter.

It is about as intellectually honest as the crusading ‘academics’ are about their own research.

If you are going to present a petition to Parliament, which by the way has to be presented to the Clerk of the House of Representatives by an MP, it has to be accurate. This petition is now so compromised that any MP presenting it to the House risks being righteously mocked for supporting a misleading petition.

More telling however, is that the organisations and people behind this petition, groups like Diabetes New Zealand, NZ Heart Foundation, Dietitians NZ, and New Zealand Dental Association should have known the petition was inaccurate.

Even more alarming is that academics and researchers from the University of Otago, the University of Auckland and AUT happily signed their names to a petition that was factually wrong.

They won’t care, they’ve been misleading Kiwis for years, all on the taxpyer’s dime.

While this commentary may seem alarmist, when you have so-called esteemed public health leaders like Dr Robert Beaglehole, Prof Tony Merriman, Prof Elaine Rush and representatives of New Zealand universities like Dr Wilma E Waterlander and Dr Helen Eyles all taking a flippant approach to fact-checking or missing a key fact, even on a document as simple as a petition, it undermines the seriousness of the obesity issue in New Zealand.

Only a few weeks ago, University of Auckland Ph.D. Fellow Dr Wilma Waterlander was the lead author of a University of Otago Public Health Expert blog post ‘The UK Government Shows Leadership with a Soft Drink Tax Announcement’.

I raised questions with Dr Waterlander over one of her references, asking for confirmation that it was correct. Dr Waterlander checked the reference, found it to be incorrect and changed it.

Busted again. Why do these people feel the need to lie to push their control-freak, nanny-state agenda?

While some would say that’s the right thing to do – and it is – the problem is that there was no acknowledgement that she had got it wrong, or that a correction was required. Instead, it was quietly changed over night and hopefully none were any the wiser.

Sadly, this is yet another example of how those advocating for a New Zealand sugar tax seem to take a flippant approach to actually getting their facts right.

Evidence seems to follow fact-checking out the window – thrown out by the very people that claim to have “peer-reviewed” evidence that shows they are right, and everyone opposed to a sugar tax is wrong and “in the pocket of Big Food”.

Politics of the sugar tax issue aside, to quietly change the wording of so-called academic articles or petitions that people have signed without any notification or commentary as to why a change was needed, is simply wrong, and borders on deception.

They are inherently dishonest, and don’t like being called on it. When they are called on it they rush off to the press and moan about the chilling effect of halting academic freedoms. When those freedoms including the freedom to lie then perhaps we should be looking at their funding rather more closely than previously.


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  • Second time around

    In this week’s Listener Professor Boyd Swinburn is quoted as saying that what the government is doing is all good in its own way, but lacks any single strong attack, as the sugary beverage tax would provide. The government is criticised for expecting gold standard proof of its effectiveness without providing similar quality of proof that what it is doing is effective. There may be a shift from an earlier position that taxation was the only or best solution to the obesity problem, and certainly the Mexican study will never make the gold standard.

  • Souvlaki

    There are in fact , multiple studies detailing academic deception.It is a well known phenomenon in Medicine ….springing originally from the maxim in academic Medicine ” to publish or perish “. If you look at many journals, some are full of completely irrelevant dross….pumped out like sausages because of this thought that one must be ” seen to be innovative” in print ! It is time the truth was out!

    • biscuit barrel

      And the new wording is :
      We are the third fattest nation in the OECD

      Before was
      We are the third fattest nation in the world

      Wardrobe malfunction ?

  • Diehard

    Corruption, just like the global warming conspiracy “scientists”

    • Orca

      more like “scientologists”

  • EpochNZ

    In my opinion, most of the people who sign these kinds of petitions will do so after making a snap decision on whether the main heading aligns with their values. I’d be very surprised if a petition’s wording has ever managed to sway anyones decision to sign or not sign. They could have just said “SUGAR!!! BAD!!!!” at the top and still got the same amount of signatures. However, its not a good look to be found getting “facts” wrong in the description, and I’m surprised that such a simple mistake wasnt picked up when it was proof read before submission….unless that didnt happen?

  • powderburns

    It is not about the sugar, global warming, Y2K, leaky homes, the environment, smokers, minimum wages, global freezing. It is about control. They care not a whit for people, all they want is power.

    These gullible zealots are uniquely qualified not to hold it. We foolishly leant them the tools to control us. PC is the greasy tongue they employ. The tongue of Sauron is beguiling.

    Take back the power. Push back.

  • Hard1

    It is now a different petition and must be started again.

    • biscuit barrel

      How would you feel about a political party adding to its list of election policies 3 months after the election is over ? Should we have a new election.
      Of course not. In reality sneaky stuff happens all the time

      • Hard1

        As I said, it is now a different petition and must be started again.

      • Miss Phit

        Maybe but if you signed a document based on what you had read there and later it was changed to reflect a different data set (or what ever), then your signature is invalid. You signed based on the original data not any additional data to be added at a later date.

        Would you accept a contract you signed and later had the details changed? Nope, neither would I.

        If the morally outraged anti sugar brigade are happy to carry on then they will happily resign the new document, but what if they arent so sure now the data isnt quite so bad…?

      • Phenandra

        Oh give up, Bikkie. This is degenerating into paranoid delusion on your part.

  • Hard1

    My generation drank Coke out of tiny bottles, big bottles reserved for groups. Now the habit is for kids to walk into school drinking a 1.5 liter bottle of Coke and some fried chips, all for around $4.00.
    Unlike tobacco, which is heavily taxed by the kilogram based on the fact that it is dicretional, sugar is not, it is a necessary food. Taxing sugar will be very difficult. 1kg pure sugar would be taxed at what?. Along with raising prices on a huge range of commodities, it is a sure vote loser, so Little is bound to champion this.

  • Cadae

    They think they’re on the moral high-ground, so the academic freedom to change the facts is fine.
    Morally, they’re actually bottom feeders of the control-freak variety.

  • Miss Phit

    Maybe the sugar tax (and fat tax and whatever is next out of the “hair brained tax ideas box” will fund the UBI and we will all be able to stay at the current tax rates and all get free money.

    Of course the impoverished and those below the poverty line will suffer the most because of their inability to budget/cook/turn on a tap and thus be paying most of their UBI back to the govt in taxes.

  • XCIA

    I would like to see a Royal Commission of Inquiry into who, what and why government funding is directed to outside agencies and whether those so funded have any relevant purpose.