The more I think about it, the more amazed I am that I was ever able to drink milk. Even from a young age, I was drinking pints of the stuff every day: on one particularly hedonistic binge aged twelve, I consumed approximately 36 Weetabix, all of which was washed down with gallons of milk. Even when I return home today I have to tell mum to buy in extra milk. All things considered, I am a big milk fan. What I find most astonishing is that this happened spontaneously. I decided, in my uncontrolled youth, that I liked milk without a government advisory panel nor supra-national entity telling me to do so.
Soimagine my confusion when, looking out of the bus window this morning, I saw another bus adorned with the red-headed chap from Harry Potter, sporting a milk-moustache and the slogan 'Make Mine Milk'. At first I didn't think much of it: what's wrong with an industry promoting its own product? Nothing at all. If were a milk-magnate, all London buses would be plastered in adverts proclaiming the benefits of dairy. But, as I look a little closer, something strikes me. The EU flag. What's going on? Is Ron Weasley in cahoots with Strasbourg? It would seem so: the 'Make Mine Milk' campaign, according to this press release (PDF), received a €3,000,000 'promotional grant' from the European Commission.
At first I tried to reason with myself – surely it can't be a bad thing that the EU is promoting our health interests? What's the problem with encouraging people to drink milk and thus increase their calcium intake? Rather a lot, actually. First, it should not be the EU's business to effectively subsidise private industries. What differentiates giving €3,000,000 to the milk industry from giving €3,000,000 to the carrot, marzipan, or orange-squash industry? I'm sure they all have equally valid claims to health benefits: where would this process logically end? Let the consumer decide. Consumer "information" usually ends up as advertising for the loudest special interest.
Second is the nature of the EU's funding. €3,000,000 by itself isn't all that much, but it is a symptom of a wider disorder. The European Commission recently called for a 4.9% increase in the EU budget at a time of Europe-wide austerity (in theory, at least). Of the EU's budget, €700,000,000 (PDF) is spent on 'citizenship, including culture, media, public health and consumer protection'. Although this portion of the budget represents less than 0.5% of the EU's annual budget, it is a microcosmic view of a profligate behemoth. I dread to think about the money being squandered elsewhere.