Change of direction for Consumer NZ?


Consumer NZ used to stand up for consumers protections and rights and offer very good, unbiased, advice on products and services.

It might well still do that but i have noticed it more in the media as an advocating on wider, more political issues.

Take the call for control of marketing to children.

If the Government is serious about reversing the obesity epidemic, it must introduce tough new rules on the packaging of children’s treats, Consumer NZ says.

The consumer advocacy group is calling for the control of marketing gimmicks on food packaging – particularly cartoon characters, free toys and on-packet puzzles targeting children.

Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin said under-13s were particularly susceptible to tricks of the advertising trade. With a person’s lifelong food preferences formed at an early age, if companies rope them in young, they’ll likely be hooked for life, the watchdog’s report says. . .

Consumer NZ has a right to advocate for whatever it wants.

But campaigns like this seem to mark a change in focus for the organisation which used to concentrate more on consumer rights and protections than a wider political agenda.

Consumer wins 2nd Bent Spoon


Consumer magazine has the dubious honour of winning its second Bent Spoon award from the NZ Skeptics for continuing to promote homeopathic products as a viable alternative to evidence-based medical treatments.

In its September 11 2011 review of anti-snoring products, Consumer consulted a medical herbalist who was quoted as saying that “all homeopathic remedies may work wonders for one person and do nothing for another” and that “homeopathy is best prescribed on an individual basis, after extensive consultation”.

Homeopathy is known to exploit the well-recognised placebo effect where the body heals itself in many cases. Any “wonders” worked can be attributed to that effect, as homeopathic solutions are made up solely of water – a fact not known by 94% of New Zealanders purchasing such products.

“Yet again Consumer has failed to point out that there are no active ingredients in a standard homeopathic product,” says Skeptics media spokesperson Vicki Hyde. “Surely this should raise consumer protection alarm bells, akin to someone buying a microwave and receiving a cardboard box which they´re told will heat food via the cosmic power of the universe if you think hard enough…”

Consumer did note that another expert had pointed out that “the efficacy of homeopathic remedies had not been demonstrated convincingly in evidence-based medicine.” This caveat was not adequate as far as the NZ Skeptics were concerned, particularly as the homeopathic products had a prominent place at the head of the list.

“We´ve seen the homeopathic industry use selective quotes as part of their marketing and advertising strategy to get unwitting customers to pay $10 for a teaspoon of water. No doubt Consumer´s inclusion of homeopathic products will be used to boost business, despite the admission by the NZ Homeopathic Council that homeopathic products have no active ingredients. Disturbingly, Consumer´s expert doesn´t seem to be aware of this admission, stating that `extra´ active ingredients could help.”

A number of people had raised concerns about Consumer´s willingness to feature such dubious products, with one nominator saying that the article had “destroyed Consumer NZ’s reputation as a organisation New Zealanders can trust”. . .

Skeptics also awarded a couple of  bouquets:

* Margo White, for her health columns in the New Zealand Listener

“It´s great to see informed writing on health issues, based on research and evidence, rather than the large amount of low-grade items we usually get based on press releases and thinly disguised advertorial material,” says Hyde. . .

* Whanganui District Health Board member Clive Solomon, for supporting evidence-based medicine as the core focus for hospital care . . .

Skeptics’ website is here.


Eco-bulbs are brighter


An independent test by Consumer New Zealand found that energy efficient bulbs last longer and are brighter.

Consumer NZ compared a standard 100 watt incandescent light-bulb with compact fluorescents rated between 18 and 20 watts.

Of the 17 tested, 11 of the energy-efficient bulbs were brighter and one bulb was 47 per cent brighter.
But six of the energy-efficiency bulbs were dimmer; with the worst bulb 20 per cent dimmer.

That’s not going to persuade the government to change its decision to reverse the previous government’s attempt to ban incandescent lights.

There should be no need for force after their use. If the compact fluorescent bulbs last longer and burn brighter than the more energy inefficient alternatives a bit of advertising should persuade consumers to make the change to CFLs voluntarily.

The CFLs I use do seem to last longer than incandescent bulbs but I must have the minority which Consumer found to be dimmer and they also interfere with the radio.

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