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Wendyl Nissen resorts to Dirty Politics

Wendyl 1;       truth, democracy and journalistic integrity 0.

Healthy food campaigner Wendyl Nissen claims to be the victim of a smear campaign funded by the food industry.

A self-professed lay-person, Nissen has written her weekly column, "Wendyl Wants to Know", every Saturday for the past few years. She evaluates packaged food products for healthiness and suitability for children by reading the ingredient listings.

Nissen is a  newspaper columnist, media commentator, owner of an eco-cleaning products business, and past editor of the NZ Womens Weekly. Her references include Google and other readily available resources, such as her self-written handbook on E numbers and food additives.

As a non-technical person, her criteria for healthiness include such rules of thumb as, the more ingredients on the listing, the worse the product is likely to be; and if an ingredient is not labelled as "natural", then it must be artificial.

Her "de-coding" includes gems such as "Flavour enhancer: these are used in processed foods to enhance the flavour of a food." 

She makes a virtue of the fact that she works these things out for herself, without the need to consult experts.

Which of course begs the question; does she REALLY want to know?

While her columns seem to be worthy in intent, along the way, they have contained numerous factual errors, which in some cases have reflected badly on the product and food manufacturer concerned. Inaccuracies, untruths and guesswork have the potential to damage the integrity of a food product, and reputation of its producer, in the eyes of consumers.

Manufacturers have no right of reply, and as the fine print at the bottom of each column says, "Unfortunately Wendyl cannot correspond with readers." Her Facebook page says "anyone with food industry connections will be blocked".

The credibility of the food industry as a whole suffers from this kind of misinformation, especially when it is presented in the context of government agencies and large corporates conspiring to circumvent health and public safety  considerations in the pursuit of profit.  

"Don’t trust corporations to make our food" she says on her blog.

Blogger Cameron Slater (Whale Oil) is another who has picked up on Nissen's obvious agenda, and potentially dangerous technical naivety, including a post which she made in the wake of the Fonterra WPC80 recall, recommending the substitution of packaged infant formula with a home-made, raw milk-based version.

This website has written articles previously about erroneous information that Nissen published about the use of permeate in milk, and others have attempted to have information corrected via the New Zealand Herald, without success. 

Some of her earlier columns repeated incorrect information from her handbook, claiming that some food colourings permitted for use in New Zealand were banned in several other countries. This is not true.

Efforts were made to have these and other facts corrected, and retractions published - this is where Katherine Rich and the Food & Grocery Council quite rightly became involved. These efforts went as far as the Press Council, the proper channel for addressing errors in press coverage.

As a journalist, Nissen knows that by venturing into areas outside her area of expertise, she is risking her credibility. And with complaints being made to the Press Council, she knows full well that she has published inaccurate information.

Her columns have continued, archived on the Herald website, with numerous errors still un-corrected.

However, agenda-driven, wilfully inaccurate journalism is one thing.

It is a whole different level of cynicism and deceipt to present these attempts to right the record  as a "concerted effort to have her discredited", and "bullying". To present herself as a victim, taking a lone stand against the big, ugly food industry corporations.

And as it if that wasn't enough, Nissen has taken it to another level again, by suggesting that she has been the target of a "smear campaign" by Katherine Rich, aided by her National Party connections, and right-wing bloggers funded by Rich and the food industry, in the shape of the Food & Grocery Council.

Five days out from an election.

Now we know what it is that Wendyl wants us to know. And its not the truth.

See the original article here Tuning out: Dirty Politics and the blogs.

EDIT 1, 18 Sep: The article was taken down by the NZ Herald last night.

Nissen's Facebook explanation this morning was: "... just more bullying. It's down for a while but you can now find it on my blog here http://wendyls.co.nz/?p=10200"

EDIT 2, 18 Sep: The NZ Herald article has now been re-worded and re-published: 
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11325097

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