PR hacks and wannabe lobbyists take note: for the perfect case study on “How to Fill the Summer News Vacuum with Publicity Money Can’t Buy”, look no further than the Australian Food and Grocery Council. Somehow they’ve managed to get the Acting Prime Minister to talk up Kraft Foods’, (one of their members) number one product:

“I’m a happy little Vegemite,” Ms Gillard told reporters.

“I am a very happy Vegemite eater and there is no way in the world that Vegemite would be banned in this country. Vegemite is part of being Australian, part of our history, part of our future and I’ll be continuing to wake up in the morning and having it on my toast.” 

So how did this priceless celebrity endorsement come about?

A pre-emptive strike by the Australian Food and Grocery Council against the Rudd Government’s preventive health taskforce, which is not due to file its final report until June, first ran in The Australian:

The Australian Food and Grocery Council has launched an offensive against the Rudd Government’s preventive health taskforce, challenging its credibility over fat taxes and other proposals it says could make the obesity problem worse.

A submission to the taskforce, obtained by The Australian, warns that the industry would “not support, nor be party to” plans to introduce costly regulations without proof of their effectiveness in helping people shed excess kilos.

The Government set up the taskforce last year to recommend ways to tackle preventable health problems such as obesity. Its October discussion papers floated extra taxes on “energy-dense” foods; regulating fat, salt and sugar content in food and drink; and banning advertising of unhealthy foods to children and eliminating them from school vending machines.

There was no mention of any major food brands.

Enter the Australian Food and Grocery Council. The council represents 80 per cent of the highly processed food, drink and grocery products sector, and members include Arnott’s, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca Cola Amatil, Parmlat Australia, Golden Circle, Nestle, McCain and Kraft Foods.

All the council needed to do to get maximum traction for their protests was to drop the magic word:

AFGC director for health, nutrition and scientific affairs Geoffrey Annison said food such as Vegemite, which is high in salt, could be among the casualties if food content were regulated. “Vegemite without salt is not Vegemite,” he said.

Sniffing a political opportunity in the wind, the Opposition jumped on board. As The Age reported,

Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said the government must rule out any new tax on Vegemite, not just guarantee its continued presence on supermarket shelves.

The media followed. Sunrise hosts David Koch and Kylie Gillies referred to the “airy fairy” group Preventative Health Taskforce “possibly banning Vegemite.” They then ran a poll on, no kidding, who likes Vegemite. The poll, in turn, suggested that many people like Vegemite. Pro-Vegemite emails were then read on air.

So that’s score 1 for Kraft for the reams of pro-Vegemite publicity, score one to the Australian Food and Grocery Council for stirring the public into a frenzy about the Government’s mooted health changes, and score 0 for all the poor pudgy kids out there whose parents are too patriotic to cut back on the salt.

Not that there’s many out there, mind you, just ask The Australian, their lead headline today reads: Childhood obesity epidemic a myth, says research.

Stick that in your pie hole.