An unlikely scenario?


a crazy world where scientists created thousands of artificial chemicals, many being alien to the human body but smelling – to some people – like flowers, leaves, hay, pine, wood, musk or fruit.

Then imagine that they sold these chemicals to companies who mixed them together and gave the mixtures names like ‘mountain spring’, ‘ocean mist’, ‘meadow’, ‘floral’ and even the names of flowers, although their concoctions had never been near a flower.

In this perverse, implausible world, imagine that these companies added the chemical mixtures to the cosmetics, toiletries, cleaning products and air ‘fresheners’ that they produced.

Then imagine that they were allowed to sell their smelly products without proper safety testing.

Then imagine the public falling for the propaganda and buying these artificial chemical mixtures in huge quantities, polluting the environment and making themselves and innocent bystanders ill.

Picture a scenario in which people, hooked on the belief that everything must have a strong smell, could not stop buying these unhealthy products, as they associated the smell with cleanness and freshness.

Thank goodness this insane situation could never come to pass. After all, we have responsible governments who would not allow dangerous products to be sold without controls or warnings. It is illegal under the Trades Descriptions Act to use false descriptions of goods or to supply falsely-described goods. So, for example, air ‘fresheners’ must really freshen the air, mustn’t they?

The European Commission vetoed the term ‘soya milk’ to prevent confusion with dairy milk. So they wouldn’t let manufacturers imply that their products owed their smell to flowers if it were not true, would they?

Think again. The imaginary world described above is the real one, and the chances are that you, dear reader, are among the misled majority.

Air ‘fresheners’ do no such thing. They are in fact air polluters. Bottles marked ‘rose fragrance’ are actually full of artificial chemicals, not extracts from roses.

In August 2008, Unilever launched a new range of fabric conditioners called ‘Comfort Naturals’, about which their UK Comfort Brand Manager Kathryn Fordham, stated, with no apparent hint of shame “The launch of Comfort Naturals taps into the current trend for the simpler more natural things in life.” (Talking Retail, 2008) The £5.2 million marketing campaign for the range includes a full-page magazine advertisement which urges to “get back to nature” with “nature” in curvy, green, inch-high letters. Three bottles of the eponymous fabric conditioners lie against a sky-blue background on a soft green base, with flowers and leaves – one graced by a ladybird – around them. Other wording reads “Blended with simple, natural ingredients, the new range of Comfort naturals infuses your clothes with beautiful fragrances inspired by nature...Follow your instincts and get back to nature.”

Yet the company’s own webpages listing the ingredients for two variants show that most of the ingredients are the usual synthetic suspects, including the catch-all “parfum” which almost-certainly comprises little or nothing but synthetic chemicals (Unilever, 2008b, 2008c).

Unilever is indeed tapping into the “current trend for the simpler more natural things in life.” But it is doing it under false pretences.

Adding a few natural extracts to a mainly-synthetic product range, calling it “Naturals” and suggesting that one can “get back to nature” by using it is about as honest and responsible as adding a dash of orange juice to a bottle of vodka, branding it a health drink and urging people to drink it as part of their “5 a day”.

So who regulates the perfume and perfumed-product industries?