"We have no plans to introduce plain packaging for food," a Ministry spokeswoman told this publication.
As anyone who is familiar with the jargon of politics knows, 'we have no plans' is very different from 'we will not'. However, as Food Production Daily points out, the DoH's comment is more revealing for what it did not say than for what it did. The statement was released in response to the following comment from Mike Ridgway, a representative of the British packaging industry...
“With legislation around minimum alcohol pricing in the pipeline, high profile debates about a “fat tax” and calls for cigarette style health warnings on alcohol and ‘junk food’; brand owners and manufacturers have to open their eyes to the very realistic threat of ‘plain’ packaging being introduced on a wide range of consumer products. Indeed the Parliamentary Select Committee for Health has already called for evidence on “plain packaging and marketing bans” in its scrutiny of the government’s alcohol strategy.”
Since Mr Ridgway repeatedly named alcohol as the next prime target after tobacco, it is rather disconcerting that the DoH chose only to mention food in its rebuttal. I would be tempted to not read too much into that were it not for the fact that the UK and Ireland are indeed both looking at plain packaging for alcohol.
Meanwhile in New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key has said that "we have the sovereign ability to control what's on our shelves and the way we present it." A strange thing for the leader of a nominally free market society to say, but somehow not so surprising.
Still, we mustn't worry about a slippery slope here. As anti-smoking campaigners keep reminding us, tobacco advertising has been banned for ten years and yet nobody is seriously considering banning alcohol advertising.
Oh wait, they are.
If you pop along to this conference you will get the chance the hear Gerard Hastings speak. Hastings works at the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Research but—would ya believe it?—is now applying lessons learnt in tobacco control to the field of alcohol control. We know what he wants because he was at the 'Learning from Each Other' anti-tobacco/anti-alcohol love-in last year.
Professor Gerard Hastings, director of the Institute for Social Marketing and the Centre for Tobacco Control Research at Stirling University, said: "I’m very gratified to hear the minister talking about a complete ban as I believe that’s the way forward."
So, definitely no slippery slope there then. We can all rest easy.