The Political Corruption Of Language - Europe's Secret War Of Bias


The Greatest Democracy

You know what the greatest democracy is? Guess.

No, not ancient Greece. No, not the US. Not the UK. Not Europe. Not even a country. It’s language. That's right, the most democratic institution in the world is language.

It's the one thing we all have a say in, every day, as we communicate, and as we describe the world. It isn't some fake democracy where we vote every few years from a pathetically-limited number of options, none of which represent our views, and vaguely hope that the strangers we voted for sometimes make choices we might agree with (whilst not being able to do anything about it when they don't). Language is direct democracy.

Language Changes Due To Usage

And language evolves. This happens when enough people make changes to how they communicate and a new consensus forms. We vote with tongues and pens and the majority gains power. It's even fully proportional and inclusive, in that regions and dialects can choose to differ and have their own forms.

This evolution is why full stops are fading away from acronyms. We have an AI, not A.I., BBC not B.B.C. It’s why new words appear, new formations. It's why portmanteaus like chillax pop up. It's why separate words get merged with hyphens, then the hyphens eventually disappear as a form of evolution (electronic mail, e-mail, email). This isn't driven by rule-setters, it is driven by the people.

The meanings of words change too. The word "split" originally referred to a ship breaking up on rocks, but people widened the meaning to refer to anything that broke completely apart. Whereas the word "senile" used to refer to anything related to old age, but people narrowed the definition to refer specifically to those with senile dementia. Even the word "meat" didn't originally refer to animal flesh - it meant any food substance (so plant-based foods were also "meat" - worth bearing in mind as you read on).

In the same way, in primitive times when there weren't alternatives for items, words referred to the only form that was available. Nowadays the meanings have naturally broadened to include all the alternative forms. That's how people use language.

It would be ridiculous to try and use legislation to force words to go back into the primitive past, and over-rule the way people use language. Yet that is exactly what some politicians try to do, spurred on by the vested interests of industries they have connections to.

Politicians With Vested Dairy Interests

I once asked Who Determines What A Word Means? This was triggered by politicians wanting to redefine words to promote industries that were splashing cash around to influence politics (that's what lobbying often seems to be - legitimised bribery). The underlying reasons - to benefit one industry over another - are embarrassingly transparent. It's not surprising people suspect corruption in these cases.

In that case it was politicians with vested interests saying the word "milk" should only apply to one type of milk (dairy milk). And it wasn't just limited to the US. We already had a similar persecution in Europe in 2007, where the EU banned calling soya milk "soya milk" (Council Regulation 1234/2007). That's why it is now labelled "soya drink" on the carton, even though everyone in Europe and the rest of the world calls it soya milk. The words people use are ignored by politicians, as vested interests try and sway things. (The other tactic of dodgy industries is sending propaganda into schools under the guise of "educational materials" to try and brainwash children and legitimise their products: e.g. it has been done by the dairy industry, tobacco and oil industries, etc) It shows how out of touch these biased politicians are, and how dishonest they are in their use of law to interfere with language and people's commercial choices.

Let me drop this in here (and it's worth bearing in mind throughout my article):

"When people who have a duty to act on behalf of others, such as elected officials [...] shape the law to serve the interests of some private parties, a conflict of interest exists. [...] The failure of government officials to serve the public interest as a consequence of lobbying by special interests who provide benefits to the official is an example of agent misdirection." [Source]

Even twelve years after the EU said soya milk couldn't be sold as soya milk, you know what? People still call it soya milk. Because that's what it is. All the EU directive did is create a confusing mismatch between what a thing is, and what the EU allow it to be called. Sounds like 1984 Newspeak to me.

Let's just take a step back, in case any of you aren't sure about the definitions of "milk". The word "milk" not being exclusive to dairy products isn't a new thing: the OED's definition 2 of milk as plant-based is over 600 years old. That's authority.

"Milk" can refer to any white edible liquid. Dairy milk is just one type of milk; plant milk is another. If politicians really want to stick their oars in where they aren't needed or wanted, then instead of banning the terms "soya milk" and "plant milk" they could just say that it's a requirement to always include a prefix to "milk" to clarify the sub-type. So you'd go into a shop and see:

Dairy milk.
Oat milk.
Goat's milk.
Coconut milk.
Soya milk.
Almond milk.
(Outside of a shop we might talk about  human breast milk too, which also isn't from a cow.)

There is no ambiguity with this system. No confusion. No favouritism. No attempt to over-rule how people use language. No hints of shady bribes from vested interests. Just sensible decisions.

Too much to ask, maybe. Unfortunately, Europe has an insidious historic bias in favour of animal agriculture. It gives EU dairy farmers alone more than €970 million in subsidies every year, and runs schemes such as the European School Milk Scheme “to encourage children to consume milk and milk products and develop a lasting habit of doing so.” This shifts more than 27,000 tonnes of dairy products some years, at taxpayer costs of over £8 million.

So it wasn't surprising that this bias happened in Europe again in 2017:

"In 2017 the European court of justice ruled that plant-based products such as soya and tofu should not be sold as milk or butter. It said dairy terms could only be used while marketing designated animal products, after complaints from German competition regulators about the German firm Tofutown’s tofu butter, veggie cheese and rice spray cream products." [Source]

The European court of justice and the politicians are not even consistent: "Cocoa butter, coconut milk and salad cream were exempted under EU law." They openly admit that these terms (milk, butter, cream) are widely used for both dairy and non-dairy products, but the hypocrites are only interested in trying to diminish the profitability of plant sources that compete with the animal industries they favour - the industries that some people believe will pay the biggest bribes. And yet these bodies of politicians and civil servants are meant to support all agriculture (i.e. plant-based agriculture too), not just animal agriculture. There is something very suspicious here.

Yet More Politicians Trying To Over-ride How People Use Language

And it is still happening.

I saw this on The Guardian today: ‘Veggie discs’ to replace veggie burgers in EU crackdown on food labels

In a move that some MEPs suspect bears the fingerprints of the meat industry, the parliament’s agriculture committee this week approved a ban on producers of vegetarian food using nomenclature usually deployed to describe meat.

The protected designations would include steak, sausage, escalope, burger and hamburger, under a revised regulation that passed with 80% approval. The measures will now be voted on by the full parliament after May’s European elections, before being put to member states and the European commission.

The French socialist MEP Éric Andrieu, responsible for overseeing the legislation, said the prohibition was just “common sense” and he appealed to Europeans’ sense of foodie history.

“The meat lobby is not involved in this,” he said. “It has generated a considerable debate among the political groups and a large majority wanted to clarify things. Particularly in the light of history, the history we share, you can have a steak or burger, you can’t call it something else.”

The decision to protect meat-related terms and names “exclusively for edible parts of the animals” was firmly opposed by NGOs such as Greenpeace and Birdlife who insisted it presented a blow against sustainable food."
[...] Under article 17 of regulation (EU) no 1169/2011, names currently used for meat products and meat preparations will be reserved exclusively for products containing meat, MEPs have decided.

"The meat lobby is not involved in this," Éric Andrieu said. "Bollocks," I say. It's so obvious where their preference and protectionism is coming from. These same bodies, that want to redefine language and try to attack plant-based food products, certainly wouldn't intervene if the profits of farmers who grew sprouts or soy beans or potatoes were affected because fewer people wanted to buy them any more. It's just a weird bias for animal products. If you have never heard of the resulting butter mountains and milk lakes, read this. Such extravagant waste, despite all the suffering caused in the creation of those products.

(Aside: note that consumer choice is the other important democracy - when you buy anything, you vote with your wallet. Fewer people are voting for animal products in the modern world, for various compelling reasons.)

If this really isn't something coming from the meat lobby (which sounds like a disgusting part of a hotel in a horror novel) then why aren't they also targeting products like "fish fingers" and "fish cakes"? By their same argument, "fish cakes are not cakes so should be renamed as fish discs". Which shows how hypocritical some of these MEPs are. 

You know what this is like? If some company that still made old dial telephones started lobbying politicians and throwing money around to persuade them that they should pass legislation so that their competitors who made popular smartphones couldn't call them "phones" because they don't have dials and plug into a phone line. If that happened we'd all know who was in the pocket, or deranged.

The Worst Kind Of European Reputation

The thing that pisses me off most about this is that, at a time when so many of us are fighting to stay in Europe (because there are a lot of good things about it), we have European politicians pushing bizarre anti-consumer, pro-animal agriculture laws from motivations that look either corrupt, stupid, or out-of-touch. Possibly all three. These people cast Europe into disrepute and are responsible for providing the fuel for every pro-Brexit paranoiac.

I suspect it is part of the reason why the UKs Brexit is such a mismanaged clusterfuck. The options were "stay in Europe" and "leave Europe", as if it is a black and white issue. The world isn't like that. People aren't like that. What we have is greys, mixtures of good and bad. I voted to Remain, but really I'd have liked an option "Remain, but work harder to reform the bad stuff." That bad stuff would include Europe's historical pro-dairy, pro-animal-agriculture attitudes that are a relic of the past, knee-jerk responses to a post-war period that is long gone, but where the protectionism has become part of the culture and remains long after it has become outdated.

And here we are, at a critical time, when I'm hoping the current UK's mood (which has shifted overall to Remain after people saw what a disaster Brexit would be) will lead to Britain cancelling Brexit and staying in the EU ... and yet we have irresponsible politicians in the EU playing games with language for their "special friends" and pulling anti-democratic, anti-consumer, pro-big-business shady shit like this. Those politicians and bodies should be ashamed of their role.

They are out of touch with the fastest-growing food trends to move away from animal products to healthier plant-based options. (If you wonder about that - there are many recent scientific recommendations for people to adopt a predominantly plant-based diet for a sustainable future and good health.) This is the response of industries running scared from the rise in veganism, leading to reactionary and outdated defensive protectionism. The response from these pro-meat politicians doesn't even make sense. Do they really think that by messing with names the end result will be vegans or vegetarians who get confused and buy a beef burger rather than a nut burger? This is not going to boost sales for a flagging industry that puts profit above compassion.

I am very angry today. Let's be clear - I'm not arguing about what should or shouldn't be sold. Only that politicians shouldn't try to redefine words to favour particular industries that they may or may not have shady connections with.

Back To Basics - Definitions

I already covered milk earlier. In short: there are many types of milk, both plant based and animal based. It's the same with cheese, yoghurt, and any other product that has both dairy and non-dairy options. Dairy cheese and non-dairy cheese. Soy yoghurt and cow's milk yoghurt. Cocoa butter, dairy butter, soya butter and peanut butter. There's no confusion when we give the complete combination of noun plus source.

Other foods are no different.

A sausage isn't defined by its ingredients. A pile of pork is not a sausage. A round patty of mincemeat is not a sausage. A sausage is defined by its appearance - shape and consistency (which can also include colour, smell, taste). It has to be an elongated edible food formed from a mushy substance, possibly with the addition of herbs and spices. Then the sub-type is governed by the main ingredients.
A sausage could be a pork sausage. It could be a vegetable sausage.

Same with burgers. It could be a beef burger. A mushroom burger. A lentil burger. A nut burger. A tofu burger. A seitan burger.

(Fuck it, if they really cared about making it clear where things came from, beef burgers would be labelled as cow burgers; pork sausages as pig sausages. But they don't really care about accuracy or clarity, they care about protecting the interests of certain industries.)

Agriculture and Rural Development Committee [AGRI]

So, who is responsible for trying to pass this pro-meat industry legislation? The Agriculture and Rural Development [AGRI]. You can find the members of the AGRI committee here. Based on this vote, 80% of them seem to be anti-vegetarian/vegan/plant-based foods, and pro-meat industry (for whatever reason: whether bias, ignorance, corruption, or something else).

I have contacted every member of that committee which was easily contactable (e.g. Michel Dantin's email address was "undeliverable"), and may later add a summary of which ones replied and what they said.

Conclusion

We live in a world of pluralities. There are alternatives. We all know them. Only outdated or corrupt politicians would deny this, and try to change the meaning of words to benefit their hidden agendas. Our representatives should not be making rules to benefit vested interests. Yet that is what we are seeing. And that corrupt shit needs to be challenged.

These proposals are part of an ongoing process of trying to use law to control language, that ultimate democratic thing determined by usage. They are trying to overturn the billions of votes to use language a certain way and force through their own narrow agendas. That’s as anti-democratic as it could possibly be. This secret war of redefinition and favouritism, which looks like the worst kind of corruption and abuse of power, has to stop.

Words gain definitions through how the mass of people use them, and definitions change all the time. You either live in your current culture, or cling in panic to some imaginary past like a panicked Brexiteer. Unfortunately, incomprehensibly, and paradoxically, that’s how a small part of the European Government is acting, and has been acting for many years.

Moving Forward

I'll be contacting various MEPs and NGOs about this, and including any relevant responses in the form of updates. Hopefully this shitty proposed legislation will be overturned at the plenary session and then during negotiations between Parliament and Council.

Still, there are a number of questions.
  • How did each of the members of the Agriculture and Rural Development [AGRI] vote? Who were the 80% who voted for this nonsense?
  • Where is the list of the vested interests of those 80%? What contacts and friends and acquaintances do they have in the meat and dairy industries? What payments have they or their parties received from industry lobbyists? How could they be investigated for potential bias and corruption?
  • How can these dodgy pieces of legislation be permanently overturned? That includes Council Regulation 1234/2007; the 2017 European court of justice ruling that plant-based products such as soya and tofu should not be sold as milk or butter; and article 17 of regulation (EU) no 1169/2011.
  • How can the EU be encouraged to make an overarching statement that acknowledges what the words actually mean to European citizens and the rest of the world? The EU needs to accept that milk, cheese, yoghurt, burgers, sausages, whatever, exist in multiple forms, multiple ingredients, both animal and plant-based. They should show no favouritism. If any definitions are required, make it an onus on all products, animal and plant based, to include the derivation, as I have delineated above. Dairy milk and soya milk. Beef burger and lentil burger. Pork sausage and vegetable sausage. That would be clear for consumers, match how language is actually used, be unambiguous, exclude bias, permit no vested interests, and allow no potential for corruption.
  • European agricultural policy should be aimed at organic plant-based foods. They should be anti-GMO, and push for foods grown as naturally and seasonally as possible, limiting food miles, removing unnecessary packaging and waste etc. That would be a direction for the future that Europe could be proud of. Not this cringeworthy protectionism, transparently influenced by big money fears from industries resistant to change. The politicians should realise that we are heading towards a more compassionate, democratic, sustainable, and caring future. Attempting to apply punitive measures to stop that is just an example of pettiness.

Update: 2019-04-09 MEP replies

I contacted my six MEPs, replies as follows:
  • Ian Hudghton [Scottish National Party]: No reply.
  • David Martin [Labour Party]: No reply.
  • Nosheena Mobarik [Conservative Party]: No reply.
  • Alyn Smith [Scottish National Party]: No reply.
  • Catherine Stihler [Labour Party]: Auto reply: "Catherine will no longer be a Member of the European Parliament from the 31st January 2019 and consequently her office will be permanently closed from this date."
  • David Coburn [The Brexit Party]: No reply.
On the plus side, I received a useful and supportive reply from Molly Scott Cato MEP (Green Party). It's a shame we don't have more Green Party politicians - which comes down to how we vote in elections.

Update: 2019-04-17 MEP replies

I haven't had a reply from any of my six MEPs. I also contacted every one of the members of the AGRI committee. None of them have replied either. I think that is some proof that this group of MEPs cares nothing about democracy and representation, they are just following their own suspicious agendas.



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8 comments:

MikeJ said...

The word milk has been used to describe a drink from coconuts or made from almonds for centuries. Same with peanut butter or referring to the flesh of fruits. Meat has only relatively recently changed its meaning to refer to animal flesh instead of food in general. This is all very silly and tending towards malicious. No one is suggesting that, for example, we can't refer to chickory as a coffee substitute in case customers get confused. It mostly seems to be targeted at non-animal foods.

John Swede said...

Its funny that they think it requires change xD. Like if you can see the box you can see its not meat

Tara said...

Infuriating! And I can't believe this has nothing to do with the meat industry.

Karl Drinkwater said...

Thanks everyone, all good (and sensible!) points!

ilovecats said...

This is just so ridiculous. I'm surprised that the beauty industry haven't been stopped using the words "cream" and "milk" because people could get confused and put it on their cornflakes. Grrrr. ??

Doug said...

It's bad reporting, not been passed yet. I already have a new name for burgers if it's passed. Veggie medallions or medals, because they're not for losers and don't make losers of the animals either.

Karl Drinkwater said...

Hi Doug, I agree, though it's good to raise awareness and object now - much better to try and stop things at this stage than overturn them later (which is a far more difficult prospect.)

I should add that I have no problem with calling them whatever anyone wants; I only have a problem with people being told they CAN'T call things what they want. Especially when it looks like a transparent attempt to attack vegans and prop-up ailing exploitation industries.

Lizzie said...

It just means they are really scared!

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