Politician and former marketing manager for the New Zealand Dairy Board, Dr Lockwood Smith, has fired a stinging broadside at James and Suzy Cameron.

Speaking at a primary industries summit in Wellington this week he said “human beings evolved unable to digest cellulose, a major component of plant material.

“Most plant proteins don’t contain all the essential amino acids our metabolism requires. A balanced diet should include animal proteins.”

He said the Cameron’s might be great movie makers “but science ain’t their long suit.”

The comments, which were reported on Radio New Zealand’s Rural News programme, incensed listener Peter Grant who, within half an hour of them being broadcast, emailed RNZ to complain.

Grant, a registered nurse, said he wanted to “address Dr Smith’s deliberate (I assume) misrepresentation of the facts, regarding the nutrition gained by ingesting plant foods.

“Cellulose digestion does not and never has played a part in human nutrition, it is therefore a moot point.

“Dr Smith perpetuates the myth that a healthy diet must contain animal protein so that “essential” amino acids are included in one’s diet.

“Nutritional science in fact refutes this, as plant-based foods such as Quinoa (to name just one) contain all the “essential” amino acids required for healthy living.

“When studying the science around nutrition, lifestyle and health it becomes obvious that our western lifestyle (fixated on animal proteins and fats) is making us all very very unhealthy at best and killing us at worst.

“Dr Smith is in fact the one who has a “short suit” in science, if this truly represents his knowledge of nutrition.

“Perhaps though it’s just the politician raising his ugly head and playing the tune he knows the audience wants to hear.”

The summit audience greeted Dr Smith’s joking and somewhat dismissive remarks with rapturous applause, but his comments come at a time when others are taking the food debate a lot more seriously.

In an article in the New Zealand Herald today, Professor Boyd Swinburne has hit out heavily at the Government and ‘old’ farming attitudes.

“Despite being so central to all aspects of our wellbeing, the word “food” barely appeared in our first Wellbeing Budget – not in the Budget, the Living Standards indicators, the mental health report, or the Government’s response to it,” he said.

“We have no national food policy. We have no central food agency pulling together all the ministries and agencies dealing with food. Yet food is everywhere.

“We urgently need a coherent national vision for our future food systems and revising our food-based dietary guidelines to include environmental sustainability would be a very good start.”

Swinburn is a professor of population nutrition and global health at the University of Auckland.

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