Doesn’t it make you throw your toys out of the pram? Politicians who see themselves as progressive trying to stop companies from marketing their products – in this case on the highly spurious grounds of saving money for constituents?
When I saw the news that the SNP member for Glasgow Central at Westminster is today actually proceeding to second reading with a bill to prevent formula-milk producers from distinguishing their products on the open market, I genuinely thought the link was from one of those spoof-sites like the Daily Mash.
Why? Because Alison Thewliss MP actually admits that there’s nothing wrong – on health grounds – with feeding your child formula milk, if that’s what you choose to do.
So her arguments aren’t based on the industry’s record in the third world – or even UK maternity units – where it has been accused of trying unduly to influence young mothers. Nor on the merits of breast over powdered milk.
Since she can’t get round the fact that – even with expressing – work, lifestyle and physiology prevent many women from completing the weaning process ‘on their own’, Thewliss’ only line of attack has been essentially to call the manufacturers of formula-milk brands liars.
In her fevered imagination, they must be stopped from making any claims for their products or from distinguishing themselves from each other by name, imagery or word. Consumers should only be presented with ‘objective’ dietary information and advice.
There’s the rub. As well as undermining one of the pillars of our internationally trading world – consumer branding – Thewliss wants experts to advise consumers on what’s best for their health; the way they already do, endlessly, interminably, with booze and cake and five-a-sodding-day.
And no doubt these experts would be the same geniuses who decided animal fats were a bad idea and sent nutritionists on a 50-year detour.
This is a strange waste of parliamentary time. Unless Thewliss wants to ban formula milk, or have it redefined as a drug, its marketing is no more her business than that of vitamin supplements, probiotic yoghurts or vaginal steamers.
A perfectly adequate body already exists to regulate the claims that companies make for themselves. It’s called the Advertising Standards Authority.
But no. That’s not good enough for her, not good enough for any of these bleeding-hearts and busybodies, because she has a precedent to twist. Tobacco. The nanny state can point to the gradual eradication of cigarette branding and – turning a blind eye to smuggling and counterfeiting and pointless longevity – claim it has made a healthier nation, if not a happier one. Now any product that we use can be subjected to the same logic.
The tobacco industry used to be mocked for its Cassandra calls of ‘You’ll be next!” But plain-packaged alcohol is becoming a reality; Ireland, for example, has already committed to it. Soft drinks are soon to carry health warnings, the first step (although, with typical banners’ logic, smoothies will be exempt). Cosmetics know their time is coming.
Now, that may all be fine and dandy by you. All these things may be fripperies, unnecessary, possibly unhealthy and wasteful. Brands to you are not marks of trust but of evil capitalist deception, and central planning is best. But the rest of us, as Madonna sang, are living in a material world. And Thewliss’ concerns are immaterial.