Blog: Of biscuits, beer drinkers and the (almost) unmentionable

Catherine Sleep | 13 May 2004

Yesterday’s Annual General Meeting of the UK Federation of Bakers was very educational. Initially I was surprised that members of the press were welcome, as my expectations of an AGM involve wrangling over internal policy, disputing or passing resolutions and bickering over constitutional changes; these are not matters trade associations generally want the press to report on.

However, this was a rather different kind of AGM: clearly the real talks had already taken place behind closed doors and the meeting was concluded within minutes to allow the real business of the day to begin. Speakers included Geoffrey Podger of the European Food Safety Authority and Digby Jones of the Confederation of British Industry, along with National Farmers’ Union deputy president Peter Kendall and Bill Grimsey of the Big Food Group. You can read more about what they had to say in today’s news pages.

What they DIDN’T talk about was the Atkins Diet and low carb in general, which is proving a right pain in the neck for any starch-based industry. We waited all day for someone to bite the bullet and mention it, until finally Peter Kendall from the NFU made a self-deprecating joke about probably having been invited to speak because he clearly wasn’t on Atkins. Actually the joke made little sense as he isn’t obviously overweight, but hey, anything to liven up the graveyard slot.

The CBI’s Digby Jones was as entertaining and polished as usual. One comment that sticks in the mind is that, when it comes to complying with EU regulations, countries fall largely into two camps: beer drinkers or wine drinkers. While, as Podger pointed out, the UK might not always be as scrupulous at obeying edicts from the EU as it likes to think it is, Jones commented that most of the time it’s pretty good – along with “the Scandinavian countries, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany, mainly”. Jones’ implication is that the wine-drinking countries of southern Europe are rather more laissez-faire. Technically, I guess he should be reassured that the ten new EU entrants are largely beer drinking nations (Baltic states, Czech Republic, Poland… yup, with a few exceptions they prefer the grain to the grape). Time will tell whether Jones’ analogy holds true.

A very minor irritation throughout the day was that several speakers took the chance to have a dig at “The Media,” as if the fourth estate in its entirety was out to make their life difficult. Yes, certain publications do thrive on bad news stories, but given that a number of specialist food trade journos were in the room, a little diplomacy or even a twinkle in the eye would have been welcome. Still, I think we were all mollified by the extremely good biscuits served at coffee time – well, it was a meeting of bakers, so a poor show on the biscuit front would have been embarrassing.


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