The most ludicrous media storm blew up in the UK this week over alleged plans that the government was supposedly to force us to use ultra heat treated, so-called long-life, milk in our tea and on our breakfast cereal rather than the nice fresh pasteurised product we have been used to for decades. Wayne Smallman on the blah blah! technology news site has a detailed analysis of the situation. He quotes from a news story on the subject in which it is claimed that “Officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have made a serious proposal that consumers switch to UHT”.
That’s fair enough officials probably have put forward such a serious proposal. It will have been one of dozens being mooted at any one time within government. Some proposals are literally insane, others will be quietly assimilated into future discussions, and some of them may even reach a minister’s inbox for parliamentary debate. Occasionally, though these kinds of “proposals” escape into the wild where they evolve into the kind of crazed scaremongering story we are used to in the British media. More often than not such discussions are the result of a think-tank type discussion in which a group of intelligent people come up with some “what if” questions and then take the various possible answers to their logical extreme conclusion.
These kinds of extrapolations are never really meant to see the light of day, there may be a nugget or a grain of policy hidden within that will ultimately emerge in a new law, but if the media gets wind of such “what ifs” mid-flow, it seems that they can quickly become the biggest scandal of the week.
It’s ludicrous that getting us to switch to UHT would save energy anyway, UHT is produced, as the name would suggest, by heating it well above the usual pasteurisation temperature and packing it in a hermetically sealed container. The energy cost and carbon footprint of producing UHT, I wager, far outweighs that of refrigerating fresh milk. Moreover, a carton of UHT, once opened, will require subsequent refrigeration, I believe.
There are two other thoughts that occurred to me while warming the teapot just now. Surely, there are other far more wasteful targets for such proposals. Why for instance, do we need to refrigerate containers of carbonated drinks for extended periods. No life form on earth could survive within a cola can with all that acid, sugar and lack of oxygen, surely?
More seriously, though, the UK has obligations in the light of potential climate change to reduce its national carbon footprint. Fair enough, we should all play our part, but currently, I think the UK’s carbon output amounts to a few fractional percentage points of global output. How much of a fraction of a fraction is the switch from fresh milk to UHT going to make when we’re walking on carbon tiptoes as it is? Such a proposal looks especially silly when you consider rapidly developing nations are laying new roads at a rate of dozens of kilometres a week and revving vehicles with which to fill them and at the same time firing up power stations that run on fossil fuels.
As to actually forcing us to drink UHT rather than fresh milk. Perish the thought, it makes a nice cup of tea into a punishment and turns even the tastiest of breakfast cereals into an early morning nightmare of distaste.