Irish farmers want more subsidies

I am disappointed to hear that the Irish Farmers Association is calling for more subsidies – and ridiculous ones at that. The value of the pound has dropped, so as Irish farmers export a large amount of their produce to the UK, the price Irish farmers receive has dropped as well. Now the IFA is calling for Irish taxpayers to make up the difference.

So Irish farmers, who already survive on subsidies (an Irish sheep or beef farmer receives around 50% of their income from subsidies) want yet more money from the government. Money that is taken from other productive sectors of the economy.

However the rest of the economy is suffering at the moment too. No-one else can afford to pay more tax to prop up farmers. Subsidies need to reduce in these hard times, not increase.

New Zealand farmers suffer too with changing exchange rates. They tighten their belts and weather the hard times. That is the nature of any export industry. You can’t expect the government to pick up the tab whenever the market shifts.

In my dealings with the IFA I have found them to be sensible people who want the best for Irish farmers. However they appear to be so used to subsidies now that their automatic response to hardship is to get the government to fix it.

Much as I support Irish farmers, I do hope the Irish government declines this short-sighted request. The EU is already reintroducing export subsidies, which will benefit Irish farmers while damaging agriculture in the rest of the world and draining money from other sectors of the European economy. There is no need for more of this foolishness.

Hat tip: Homepaddock

Warning labels have no effect on smoking

A recent Ministry of Health survey has shown that there has been no change in smoking rates with the introduction of graphic labels on cigarette packets. 24.3% of the population smoked in 2006, and 23.9% in 2008, with the difference being not statistically significant. Not significant means that any very slight differences could be due to random variation, so the numbers are the same – about 24% in both years.

Now that should tell us that the labels aren’t working. But it isn’t being spun that way. The Press reports

“Warnings credited with smoking fall:
Graphic photographic warnings on cigarette packets are being credited with prompting a dramatic drop in smoking rates.”

That’s the first time I even heard no change being called a “dramatic drop”. But rather than quote the actual figures, they invent a blatant lie:

Two years ago, when the introduction of photographic health warnings on cigarette packets was announced, a quarter of New Zealanders smoked. Now, almost a year after the graphic reminders of the health risks of smoking were placed on every tobacco product sold, that has dropped to one in five.

No need to comment on that nonsense. The official press release at least quotes the actual figures, but also tries to make it sound like there is a change.

The 2008 New Zealand Tobacco Use Survey shows that, after adjusting for age, 23.9% of New Zealand adults, aged 15 to 64, are smokers. The Ministry of Health’s National Director of Tobacco Control, Dr Ashley Bloomfield says, “While the drop on the equivalent 2006 figure of 24.3% is not statistically significant, this result confirms the downward trend in smoking.”

That is ridiculous. If something is not statistically significant AND is obviously a very minor change, THERE IS NO CHANGE. I would expect a reporter to critically analyse the press release and show this – and that would have made a great story by the way. Yet instead they blindly believe it, ignore the stats and invent their own more impressive sounding figure (1/4 to 1/5) to make the stats fit the desired message. Come on – are you a reporter or a Ministry of Health PR spokesperson?

Hat tip: Bernard Darnton

Research into attitudes towards pre-natal testing

Auckland University is doing a study on attitudes towards prenatal testing.
“This research aims to investigate men’s and women’s opinions regarding prebirth testing for genetic risk for diseases and disabilities.”

If you are interested in participating, send a blank email to:
prenatal@auckland.ac.nz

They will then send you out the information on how to fill in the online survey (it takes 10-15 minutes).

Note that they will probably ask you about testing for a hypothetical condition that affects 1 in 2000 babies, and there is a 1% risk of miscarriage from the test – a very plausible scenario. But remember to think through those stats for yourself – this means if you test 2000 babies, one will have the condition, and 20 will die as a result of the procedure….