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British Food Journal Volume 5 Issue 1 1903

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 January 1903



The Daily Telegraph has recently published several articles and a considerable amount of correspondence relating to malt whisky and the tricks of the whisky trade. As is usually the case when a daily newspaper takes up a subject of this kind, a number of well ‐ meaning people make a variety of suggestions as to what ought to be done to secure the purification of the particular Augean stable under discussion and to ensure the reception by the purchaser of the article which he really desires to have. But what ought to be done and what can be done are two very different things, and the question of what it is possible to do in the present state of scientific knowledge—and under the existing law as it is at present administered— is, as a rule, avoided by the writers referred to. It has been suggested, for instance, that it should be made compulsory that all vessels in which spirits are sold should bear a label distinctly stating the exact nature of the contents of such vessels. This would be an excellent suggestion if it could be effectively carried out, but, before this can be done, it is necessary to devise a method of compulsion. A man who sells as malt whisky an article mainly or entirely composed of spirit to which that title should not be applied would not have any very serious scruples as to the truth of the statements which appear on his labels. He must be compelled to act honestly by some sufficient force, and, short of a law which would permit the manufacture and “blending” of whisky to be carried out by certain persons only, according to specified rules, and under strict Government supervision in every case, no legislative enactments whatever would have the effect of preventing the various forms of this particular fraud. At present there are no legal definitions whereby the composition and characters of the articles described as “malt whisky” and “whisky” are laid down, excepting the definitions which may be held to be implied in the application of the 6th section of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act of 1875 to the case. This section requires that an article shall be of the “nature, substance, and quality demanded by the purchaser.” On the strength of this section it is quite unjustifiably assumed that the compulsion referred to can be effectively secured by the operation of the Sale of Food and Drugs Acts. According to our legal system it is essential under the criminal Acts— and the Food Adulteration Acts are criminal Acts—for the prosecuting authority to prove beyond all possibility of question that a person charged with an offence is guilty of that offence, and, in regard to the matter under consideration, it would therefore be necessary to absolutely prove by scientific evidence that any given mixed spirit, for the sale of which as malt whisky a prosecution had been instituted, was not of the nature, substance, and quality of the article demanded. Under the present conditions relating to sampling under the Acts this would be impracticable, except, possibly, on very broad lines; and, assuming that scientific investigation resulted in the possibility of fixing clear and definite points of distinction between the true and the false, there would still be the enormous difficulties and the heavy expenses attending the proving of offences of this character to the satisfaction of the Courts—difficulties and expenses which local authorities cannot fairly be expected to face. If, after the lengthy and expensive investigations that would be necessary, and which could only be properly carried out with Government aid, by a scientific Commission appointed by the Government, it were found possible to establish working definitions and standards, these would necessarily be only applicable to a limited extent, just as is at present the case in regard to milk and butter; while the question of quality can never be dealt with under repressive Acts of, Parliament of any kind. Assuming the establishment of standards of some kind we fully admit the possibility, under altered legal conditions, of checking the grosser forms of whisky sophistication by the employment of legal machinery, as is done with various other products; but vast amounts of various spirit mixtures could still be sold under false names with impunity. We should still have with us the legalised inferiority and the legalised adulteration of comparatively minor type which we have in the case of milk and butter. What is required and what alone can be effective, in dealing with sophistications which the law can never reach, is the provision of adequate and entirely independent guarantees which are based both on permanently‐applied analytical investigations carried out upon quantities of material which are not absurdly limited, and on a system of permanent and independent inspection,—both being supplied by some authority or authorities of sufficient standing. While the statements made by a reputable firm ought to carry weight, and ought, no doubt, to be accepted as valuable so far as they go, there is always necessarily and obviously a great element of weakness in the declarations put forward by a firm with respect to its own products. Particularly in view of modern commercial conditions something very much stronger than a personal asseveration as to the purity and excellence of one's own goods is now in reality required. That this is the case is shown by the fact that the demand for independent guarantees has recently been repeatedly voiced in the general press. The public are badly in want of education on all such questions and the Daily Telegraph is entitled to the thanks of the community for having initiated a discussion which can only be productive of good results in this direction.


(1903), "British Food Journal Volume 5 Issue 1 1903", British Food Journal, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 1-23.




Copyright © 1903, MCB UP Limited

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