Minister of Health Charged to Remedy Glaring Conflict of Interest

June 22, 2023
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A coalition of Health and Safety watchdog groups has called on the Minister of Health to remedy a serious conflict of interest in one of its most important advisory committees.

Hon. Ayesha Verrall, Minister of Health.

So far, the Minister has downplayed this glaring conflict of interest, issuing a statement saying that it is “natural and unavoidable in a small country like New Zealand.

”Spokespersons for SaferTechNZ, SafeICT NZ, Waiheke Action for Ethical Technology, and the NZ Wireless Authority for Radiation Protection have alerted the Minister to a serious conflict of interest concerning a leading figure on the Interagency Committee on the Health Effects of Non-Ionising Fields.

This committee advises the Ministry of Health on the levels of radiation to which the New Zealand public can be safely exposed. This requires regular and comprehensive review due to the increasing numbers of cell phone towers and wireless devices in use.

Photo RNZ, Martin Gledhill

Martin Gledhill, a long-time member of the committee, plays a key role in selecting the research reviews to be considered by the committee at its twice-yearly meetings. He also writes the minutes of those meetings.

The clear conflict of interest arises from the fact that Mr Gledhill also owns a business, EMF Services, which has commercial contracts with the major New Zealand telecommunications companies.

Dr Andrew Old, speaking on behalf of Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall, says “the Ministry of Health is aware of the potential conflict of interest.” At the same time he dismisses this conflict as “natural and unavoidable in a small country like New Zealand.”

A SaferTechNZ spokesperson argues: “When are conflicts of interest, especially in the field of public health and safety, ‘natural and unavoidable’?  Is New Zealand too small to be ethical?“

This ‘potential’ conflict of interest is actually a conflict in practice. There is no way that Mr Gledhill can provide independent advice given his contractual relationships with telecommunications companies. Not a good look, nor a good practice, for a Health Ministry. It’s a far cry from best practice.“In view of the Committee’s terms of reference and official duty, it cannot ‘provide the Minister and the Director General of Health with high quality, independent information’ while maintaining this conflict of interest.

”Minutes of the Committee’s meetings, available online, reveal that the research reviews chosen by Mr Gledhill for the Committee’s consideration fail to represent the wide range of evidence indicating harm from wireless radiation. beyond thermal heating effects. Nor has the Committee, with due diligence, taken action regarding evidence that shows harmful effects, such as the Hardell cancer study, or the Nordic Appeal.

The coalition claims that such a superficial and biased protocol ignores the gravity of proven health effects. It is launching a community awareness campaign to highlight Mr Gledhill’s conflict of interest and the deficiencies of this vitally important committee.

The coalition group is also considering legal action as it renews its call for the Ministry of Health to retire Mr Gledhill from the Committee, renew the Committee’s kaupapa based on the Precautionary Principle, and add community health advocates and consumer representatives to the Committee.

Contact:  Steering Committee,

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