Not long ago it was reported in The Grocer that several NGOs had withdrawn from meetings at the Department of Health about the Responsibility Deal in protest against the government’s refusal to impose minimum pricing on alcoholic drinks. Presumably the evolution of this voluntary arrangement can now proceed without wearisome demonising from these organisations.
Who do they represent? By definition, individuals who are not typical of the majority of consumers. Crusaders for one cause or another who have one thing in common - the need for an enemy, preferably one that is big, powerful and pernicious. Take your pick between Big Alcohol, Big Food and Big Tobacco.
In the grocery sector, they see a hydra-headed monster in the shape of a few big multinational food manufacturers in cahoots with a handful of giant supermarkets - all dedicated to maximising profits regardless of the dangers to public health, obesity, the environment and so on.
An unfair caricature? Not when you get below the surface. Emotion, not science, drives them forward - although there is always someone claiming scientific credentials who can be wheeled out for the occasion. One thinks of the pseudo-science that kicked off the great GM scare back in the late 1990s and the anti-GM hysteria that is still with us.
“One thinks of the pseudo-science that kicked off the great GM scare”
The media, of course, love them. Every story must have a villain - the bigger and more ubiquitous the better.
The one certainty on which you can count is that they will never be satisfied. Whatever the food industry or the government does will never be enough - hence the futility of appeasement. Over the past few years, the leading supermarkets have engaged in competitive ‘me-tooism’, each seeking to prove itself the most responsible. Has it lessened the zeal of the relevant NGOs for regulatory intervention? Not one bit.
Compromise is not on their agenda, but the alternative vision they typically offer is deeply reactionary - a world of small farms, small shops, ‘natural’ foods and a rosy-cheeked yeomanry. Matthew Arnold, John Ruskin and John Betjeman rolled into one, romantic vision. Why waste more time on them?
Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant