Bluetongue, red herrings and the white stuff

Terry Wogan is my nemesis. He’s clearly out to get me. Here I was, happily agonising over whether, in this week’s column, I could safely make a joke about a devastating disease threatening our livestock industry, when, faster than you can explain that MRSA is not short for Mister South Africa, there it is. Wogan beats me to the golden Bluetongue gag. Why, he asks, if the disease is so dangerous, are we not being told how to identify it? Genius. And now I have to credit him, or some bright spark will notice that I stole it. That’s the pain in the proverbial glutes about copyright.

It’s a pain that probably doesn’t bother the Disease Naming Authority (entirely fictional). ‘Foot and Mouth’, ‘Bluetongue’(which dominated news last week) and the infinitely creative ‘Mad Cow Disease’ must have taken ages to come up with. The last inspired creation comes from Australia, the land where a brown snake is called a Brown Snake, a green snake found in trees is called a Green Tree Snake and a snake found around Lake Cronin is fairly likely to be a Lake Cronin Snake. I know we claim we want less spin, more plain talking, but don’t those names grate your boobs? I mean, don’t they just widdle on your batteries? Personally, I get the urge to shout: ‘Put some effort in, man! Where’s your pride?’

But, then, Australian naming conventions are probably still better than the disingenuousness of most of the advertising to which we subject ourselves. Modern advertising is the antithesis of Australian naming conventions, a sea of red-herrings. Want to sell toilet paper? Impossibly clean velvety puppies are a natural focus. A name for a detergent you’ll use in the most menial and unmagical of household tasks? Fairy. Want to be as attractive, powerful and successful as a jet-pilot? Eleven blades on your razor are not enough! You need a twelfth.

So we trundle off to the supermarkets, looking to buy better lives (all the while telling our non-Christian friends that something is missing from their lives, as if filling the emptiness with kitchen units, new and improved dishwasher tablets and nightlights that smell like flowers was fundamentally better than using sex and booze) – confident that at least there are some staples that can’t be messed with, that can’t be oversold. Like milk.

And that’s where we’d be wrong, because cow-juice was in the news last week for just that very reason. It seems that supermarkets have been fixing the price of milk and cheese, at a cost of £270 billion to consumers. And last week the Office of Fair Trading (and I do so love those guys) threatened hundreds of millions of pounds in fines for Asda, Morrisons, Safeway, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, who the OFT have accused of colluding on dairy price increases (along with dairies) between 2002 and 2003. At the time, the hike in the price of milk, butter and cheese was sold to consumers as a move to benefit dairy farmers. In fact, that revenue didn’t quite ‘make it through’ to farmers, as one spokesman for retailers admitted to the BBC. Ultimately, consumers paid more and supermarkets benefited most.

Christians are often urged to be wary of cheap goods, to question who is bearing the weight of cheaper prices. This message is good. But if that is where it ends, if we assume that more expensive goods will naturally be better for labourers and the earth; if our energy carries us only as far as the price-tag and not the system where massive businesses can dictate prices not only to foreign producers but to educated, empowered British farmers, we are lying when we call ourselves conscious, critical or ethical.

And here’s a good man, making a good point to an obscenely patronising woman:

 

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