'Nestlé? I'd rather meet Rose West' says Hay festival critic Greer

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The Independent Culture

Germaine Greer has described herself as "incandescent with rage" after being "summoned" by Nestlé to explain criticisms she made of the company over its sponsorship of the Hay-on-Wye literature festival.

Dr Greer says she felt like a "supply teacher" being "carpeted" by a "headmistress" when she received a letter demanding to know why she had questioned Nestlé's policies on marketing baby milk products in the Third World.

The letter, from Hilary Parsons, head of corporate affairs for Nestlé UK, was sent in response to comments made by the writer following her decision to drop out of the festival in protest at the multi- national's involvement.

She had accused Nestlé of trying to make itself look "caring and sharing" while disregarding World Health Organ- isation "pronouncements" on the sale of infant foods in developing countries.

Greer, whose decision to boycott Hay prompted a fellow Nestlé critic, former Booker Prize nominee Jim Crace, to follow suit, says she has no intention of meeting the company.

"I was incandescent with rage when I saw the letter," she said. "It says they are 'concerned, puzzled', and 'what pronouncements exactly' was I referring to because they weren't aware of any that mentioned Nestlé specifically.

"The tone of it would have been appropriate if I had been a supply teacher and she had been a headmistress. It was unbelievable.

"So I wrote back and said, 'I don't want to have anything whatever to do with Nestlé...' I don't have to explain myself to them. They are merchants who sell things and we choose not to buy them: good night."

Greer said she took exception to the "high-handed" language in which the letter was couched."She could have written saying, 'I'm terribly sorry you feel like this about our company. Why don't you come along and have a talk with us?' Instead, it's all this hoity-toity 'come here and explain what you mean'. As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather sit down with Rose West."

Greer said she would only be persuaded to meet Nestlé managers if they were willing to accompany her on a trip to Brazil, where she says she witnessed impoverished mothers feeding babies infant formula rather than breast milk – contrary to WHO guidelines. Nestlé maintains that it remains "strongly committed to the protection and promotion of breast feeding".

Last night, Ms Parsons, who confirmed she will also be writing to Crace, said of Dr Greer: "We are certainly very sorry if she's taken offence. The purpose of the letter was to see if it would be possible to discuss the matter in more detail with her... I believe that, if we are to move the issue on, we have to engage with our critics."

Jim Crace last night dismissed the approach as a "PR stunt", adding: "Nestlé know, anyway, that we're not going to talk to them. They want to be able to say, 'writers refused our offer of discussions'. He added that he would only attend a Nestlé briefing if Baby Milk Action and Save the Children were also present.

News of the Nestlé charm offensive comes a week after lawyers acting for the company wrote to The Independent on Sunday accusing the paper of "inciting" authors to boycott Hay, and lacking "objectivity" on the baby milk issue.