Enough with the Political BS – How About Some Facts?

PAT PILCHER is riled up about David Seymour’s reusable bags claims – and the media’s penchant for ratings over fact. 

Sometimes politicians say the darnedest things. That might sound like a good name for a twee blooper show set in that human zoo otherwise known as parliament, but the reality is that opening their yap hole before engaging their brain has become a commonplace political practice that the media seem to be hellbent on rewarding with airtime.

The latest piece of verbal idiocy from an elected official comes from the Red Dwarf Hologram look-alike, ACT leader David Seymour.

Despite a massive body of science on the ecological and environmental damage caused by plastic bags, Seymour has bizarrely chosen to attack the government’s decision to ban single-use plastic bags and has even gone as far as saying that reusable bags could be killing up to 20 New Zealanders a year.

The worrying thing is that while many sensible people will ignore him, some more gullible folks (such as Act voters) may see his views as being credible.

In a recent Radio New Zealand Interview, Seymour said that pollution in the world’s oceans needed to be sorted out but that it was the fault of African and Asian countries, not New Zealand. “The problem of New Zealanders letting go of their plastic shopping bags and them ending up in the ocean is a problem but an absolutely tiny one,” he claimed.

If that wasn’t enough, he went on to say “It’s not a problem that justifies the level of inconvenience and potential public health danger that comes from a ban on plastic bags.”

So let’s clarify a few things here. According to Act’s only elected official, it isn’t a big deal that New Zealand’s waste plastic is killing marine life and adding to an island of plastic the size of Greenland that’s already floating in the Pacific ocean.

Is it just me, or is this is wrong on so many levels?

We all need to take some responsibility for limiting their use of plastic. To say otherwise is not only irresponsible, but it also borders on idiotic. Seymour really should know better.

Then there are his bizarre comments on how reusable bags are killing up to 20 New Zealanders a year. Aside from being wildly incorrect, Seymour got some airtime as the media lapped his ill-informed rhetoric. The big question has to be this: Where did he these bizarre ‘facts’?

It turns out that Seymour, in his rush to get some tube-time, used data from a US study carried out in 2013 from George Mason University. The study found that five people a year died in San Francisco from E coli and campylobacter after using contaminated reusable bags. The research found 97 percent of shoppers did not regularly wash their bags. The study concluded that any health costs associated with banning plastic bags nullified savings from reduced litter.

Radio New Zealand was thankfully a tad sceptical and called Seymour out on his weird rant. It seems that instead of playing it smart, Seymour doubled down on the stupid and said while he’d be happy to be proven wrong, he’d stick to his message until that happened.

Hang on a second. Shouldn’t Seymour be doing proper research up front and basing public comments on provable and verifiable facts? It’d be fair to say doing otherwise is both irresponsible and lazy and does nothing for his credibility.

Seymour’s comments quickly attracted the ire of local scientists. In pretty short order they shot down his rantings and the 2013 study he cited.

Professor Siouxsie Wiles of Auckland University told RNZ that the 2013 study had got discredited some time ago. “…it’s written by two professors of Law and Economics who are not microbiologists or public health experts….They’ve taken a data set around people who are hospitalised or deaths in San Francisco and looked at before plastic bags were banned and then afterwards. They’ve then drawn a bunch of conclusions which if anybody in public health looked at would say no, not true at all.”

Jon Palmer, food microbiologist at Massey University has also said that while there was a small risk with reusing bags that had previously contained meat, these were easily avoidable. “We freeze it, so all chicken is sold frozen, none of it is sold fresh, that would reduce the risk of contamination. Or we allow plastic bags only for meat products so we can keep our chicken products in a separate bag away from fresh produce,”

The bizarre and often uninformed rantings of politicians seeking to make political capital from a gullible media and public speak volumes about what is so wrong with politics in New Zealand at the moment.

Politicians know they can score some easy hits against political opponents by simply uttering what is so often poorly researched or even inaccurate utterly claims. The media know that this stuff gets lapped up by the public, so they give the politicians airtime.

That these claims so often don’t check out (as has been borne out by comments from the science community on Seymour’s babblings) doesn’t seem to matter. Ratings have happened, advertising sold and political points scored. Too bad if bad decisions happen or the public gets misinformed. Let’s not let facts get in the way of the political gravy train. That airing such comments reinforces the shady practice and encourages politicians, is sadly beside the point.

Here’s hoping Radio NZ gets Seymour and a scientist to front up on what is a frankly stupid issue. Perhaps if a few politicians are called out on some of the bulls**t they’re emitting, they might be a little less predisposed to uttering it in the first place.

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