Column – Science Media Centre
SMC Science Deadline: Fat debate, TPPA medical fears and $1.9M fund for science engagementSMC Science Deadline: Fat debate, TPPA medical fears and $1.9M fund for science engagement
Issue 315, 13 Feb 2015
In this issue:
New from the SMC
In the News: Meteor media coverage explodes across New Zealand
The SMC network
Fat advice debate kicks off
Decades-old advice on dietary fat intake in the UK and US is completely unfounded, claims a new review, sparking global debate on food recommendations.
The authors of the review — published in the journal Open Heart — say that the studies that the US and UK dietary recommendations were based on did not include any women, and that no trials tested any dietary guidelines or recommended that any dietary guidelines be drawn up.
New Zealand’s recommendations are similar to those in the UK and US, in which we shouldn’t eat more than 12 per cent of our total daily intake as saturated fat.
While the argument over what fats we should eat isn’t new, the review has re-ignited discussions on whether sugar and refined carbohydrates rather than meat and dairy are now the enemies of obesity.
University of Otago’s Prof Jim Mann dismisses the paper’s claims, telling Radio New Zealand that the paper was flawed.
“Number one, it’s been totally misquoted. Number two, they cherry-picked even the evidence that they used – there are more trials that could have been quoted. Number three, in 1983 and 1977, the level of evidence that was required to make recommendations is very different to the level of evidence that is required now.”
Dr Simon Thornley at the University of Auckland agrees with the paper’s authors that current advice on fats need to be reviewed, as he believes a person’s dietary intake would benefit from increasing fats and restricting starch and sugars.
“When I was practising in hospital I used to tell people to buy green milk and marge over butter,…[and] sugar had been considered a problem in the past and dismissed,” he told Stuff.co.nz. “Now that sugar is considered more of a problem than we first thought, that made me revisit what I thought about saturated fats.”
Stuff.co.nz also reports that the Ministry of Health is not considering changing its stance on fats in light of the paper’s publication. National recommendations will continue to advise New Zealanders to lower their saturated fat intake and opt for polyunsaturated fats instead.
It’s great to see experts stepping up in the media to critically look at and explain the strengths and weaknesses of scientific research. However it is challenging when opposing stances lead to confusion, frustration and distrust in consumers. Arguably, the most difficult message to convey is perhaps there is no definitive ‘final answer’ due to the nature of science research evolving in step with changing technological, environmental, cultural and political contexts.
NZ Docs tackle TPPA
New Zealand and Australian health professionals are calling on the government to reveal what is on the table in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations.
In a letter published today in the leading medical journal The Lancet, 27 signatories called on Pacific-Rim governments to lay out the details of the trade agreement.
“As health practitioners in seven of the involved Pacific-Rim countries, we call on our governments to publicly release the full draft TPPA text, and to secure independent and comprehensive assessments of the health and human rights consequences of the proposed agreement for each nation,” wrote the authors.
Dr Erik Monasterio, one of the lead authors of the letter, expressed his concerns over the secret agreement in a media release.
“It’s an unprecedented expansion of intellectual property rights that will push up the cost of affordable and lifesaving medicines, hitting hardest the already vulnerable households in New Zealand and other countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia,” he said.
He also noted that the deal may limit public health initiatives that affect international trade, saying that governments could be sued for protecting health – but governments cannot sue back.
“This will stop important health initiatives on tobacco, alcohol, the obesity epidemic, climate change, antibiotic resistance, and other major future challenges.”
“We are asking for health impact assessments, for each nation, and then their public release, so that parliaments and the public can discuss the issues– before political tradeoffs are made and the agreement is signed.”
Rough outlines of what is discussed at negotiations are provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on their TPPTalk page, but the reports are notably light on specific.
This isn’t the first time New Zealand health academics have raised a red flag over the agreement. In May last year, over 270 health care professionals signed their name to an open letter to the Prime Minister, which was published in part in the Dominion Post.
Science & society funding
The government has set up a $1 million fundfor science engagement projects and will kick off pilot projects in citizen science.
The initiatives, funded to the tune of $1.9 million in total, were flagged in the Science in Society: A Nation of Curious Mindsstrategy document released last year.
The $1 million contestable fund will see grants of up to $20,000 offered for local projects, and up to $150,000 for regional or national projects. The focus is on young people (18 and under) and hard to reach audiences. Applications are being sought for project proposals, which are due by 26 March.
A second initiative, the participatory science platform, aims to involve communities in locally relevant research projects. Three pilot areas have been identified – South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago. Applications for pilot lead roles are due by 6 March.
In a blog post, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, said his office would be involved in assisting the three regional pilot projects.
“We will also be helping to carefully monitor and evaluate the project, together with the local agencies, to make recommendations on the post-pilot phase in the months ahead.”
Quoted: New Zealand Herald
“So if you’ve got a 100kg guy who absorbs 10 times his body weight – there’s 1000kg every time he bowls the ball. You’ve got to be seriously strong to handle that.”
Prof. John Cronin at AUT’s Sports Performance Research Institute NZ, on the science behind the Cricket World Cup performances.
Policy news & developments
New initiatives to help Kiwis connect with science: Two pilot initiatives to lift New Zealanders’ engagement with science and technology have been launched. Unlocking Curious Minds offers $1 million to support projects set on finding new ways to engage young people and the Participatory Science Platform aims to create research partnerships between communities and scientists.
‘Medium-scale adverse event’ declared: The drought conditions on the east coast of the South Island have been officially declared as being a medium-scale adverse event, with extra Government being available to support the farmers and growers facing extreme dry conditions.
Strong uptake for food health labelling: By the end of 2015 the Health Star rating system will be a common sight on our supermarket shelves, enabling consumers to better identify the nutritional value of packaged foods.
Chatham Rock Phosphate application refused: The Environmental Protection Authority has refused Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd’s application to mine phosphorite nodules on the Chatham Rise. The decision-makers concluded that mining may harm the environment, including potentially unique marine life.
Notice of hearing for OPC substances reassessment: A hearing is scheduled on Tuesday 17 February for the modified reassessment of a bee control affecting five organophosphate and carbamate insecticides.
Fund for iwi freshwater improvement projects opens:Applications are now open for the Te Mana o te Wai Fund, which provides $5m over two years to help iwi work with the wider community on improving and restoring the quality of freshwater in their regions.
New from Sciblogs
Some of the highlights from this week’s Sciblogs posts:
New Zealand captures over 10% of its freshwater resource – Daniel Collins explains how the statement by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean’s office that we only capture 2% of rainwater sn t quite right.
The Hangzhou Meeting: Combating the Illegal Demand For Ivory – Brendan Moyle explains the problems behind elephant ivory poaching and how the market for illegal ivory is more complicated than you’d think.
Chthonic Wildlife Ramblings
Future proofing our pastures against drought – Lynley Hargreaves asks high school student and Gold CREST winner Minushika Punchihewa how her project on lover might help improve the drought-resistance of future pastures.
Infrequently Asked Questions
Food Matters Aotearoa – an opportunity for real debate? Or muddying the waters? Alison Campbell seconds Grant Jacobs’s post in questioning the balance of the upcoming Food Matters Aotearoa conference based on the line-up of speakers and their agendas.
Why scientists need to step up & engage! Siouxsie Wiles reflects on how a scientist’s success in ommunicating difficult and controversial research has led to the UK parliament allowing IVF babies to be created using material from three different people.
Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
Small Matters: Art from the World of Nanotechnology – 10 Feb to 8 March, Nelson. An exhibition revealing another universe of strange and compelling geometry and irregular shapes that reveal the fundamental structures of matter.
Kauri Dieback Symposium – 14-15 February, Omapere, Hokianga. Speakers including scientists, landowners, community and iwi representatives will discuss their views on the importance of kauri and the ongoing threat of kauri dieback.
How Much Energy Do Building Energy Codes Really Save? Evidence from California – 16 Feb, Wellington. California’s 1970’s-era building codes were projected to reduce residential energy use by 80 percent. How effective have they been?
Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture – 17 Feb, Auckland. This talk will feature greenhouse gas emissions reduction in the context of the French agricultural sector.
International Journal of Food Science and Technology Conference – 17-19 Feb, Lincoln. The overarching theme of the conference is the future of food innovation, nutrition and technology, bringing together more than 250 people from around the globe.
NZ Ewe Milk Products and Sheep Dairying Conference – 19-20 Feb, Palmerston North. The conference discusses the growing interest in sheep dairying in New Zealand due to the success of current sheep dairy farms along with changes to the global ‘palate’ and economy.