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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