Greer leads writers' boycott of Hay-on-Wye

Britain's premier literary festival was in crisis this weekend after leading writers announced they were boycotting the event and others called for an all-out protest over the involvement of Nestlé as a sponsor.

Germaine Greer and novelist Jim Crace cancelled their appearances at the Hay-on-Wye festival, while veteran speakers including Will Self said they were staying away – and urged all "self-respecting writers" to do the same.

Their stand will come as a huge embarrassment to organisers of the festival, which starts next weekend, and its key sponsor, The Guardian.

Dr Greer, a long-time critic of tactics used by Nestlé to sell powdered baby milk in the Third World, says she pulled out as a matter of conscience. Her lead was followed by Jim Crace, Booker Prize nominee and author of Being Dead, who had earlier pledged to use his festival speech to criticise Nestlé. Greer, who was due to interview artist Paula Rego, who recently completed her portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, said: "I don't want to make myself look like Joan of Arc. It's just a personal decision – I simply can't do it.

"I can take so much and live in communal guilt to some extent, but I'm not doing this – appearing at an event with a children's festival that's sponsored by Nestlé."

The protest will prove embarrassing for The Guardian, which, until recently, gave extensive publicity to charity Baby Milk Action's anti-Nestlé campaign. The paper has noticeably moderated its stance.

A Nestlé spokeswoman said its marketing of infant formula was "fully in line with the World Health Organisation code ... we appreciate Germaine Greer feels strongly on this issue, but are sorry she felt unable to discuss her concerns with us. The accusations against the company are years out of date."