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British Food Journal Volume 6 Issue 6 1904

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 June 1904


In a Report, issued on July 9, 1896, the Select Committee on Food Products Adulteration recommended the establishment of a central government scientific authority, who should act as a court of reference upon scientific questions arising under the Adulteration Acts, and who should be empowered, at their discretion, to prescribe standards and limits as to the quality and purity of food. It was rightly held by the Select Committee that the constitution of such an authority is an absolute necessity in order that the all‐important question of food standards may be duly considered and dealt with, and that all matters affecting the administration of the Acts and involving scientific considerations may be placed on a more satisfactory footing. The Committee also expressed the opinion that the formation of such an authority would result in the removal of many practical difficulties met with in the administration of the Acts, and would largely obviate the costly litigation in which public bodies, traders, and others are constantly liable to be involved under existing conditions. Nothing whatever has been done to give effect to the recommendation of the Committee in spite of the fact that the necessity for some such course of action as that indicated has been demonstrated beyond possibility of question, and that further evidence proving the wisdom of the Committee's suggestion is constantly afforded. The Islington brandy case provides the latest illustration of the extremely unsatisfactory conditions under which public bodies are required to administer the Acts and under which traders have to answer charges made against them. A local grocer was summoned by the Islington Borough Council for selling, as brandy, a liquid which was certified by the Public Analyst to contain 60 per cent. of spirit not derived from the grape, and which was therefore not of the nature, substance and quality of the article demanded. The vendor naturally referred the matter to the firm who had supplied him. The case was taken up by a traders' association, and, after five lengthy hearings, in the course of which much expert evidence was given on both sides, resulted in a conviction and the infliction of a penalty of £5 and £50 costs—an amount which probably represents only a fraction of the expense involved. For the present we do not propose to review the scientific evidence which was put forward by the prosecution and by the defence. There is no doubt that Mr. FORDHAM, the magistrate who heard the case, was perfectly right in taking the view that the term “brandy,” when unqualified, means a spirit distilled from wine or from fermented products of the grape. It is also perfectly plain that when a person asks for brandy and is supplied with coloured grain spirit, or with a mixture of grain spirit and true brandy, he is prejudiced, and that the vendor commits an offence under the Acts. The fact that the term “brandy” has been commonly applied to “silent spirit” coloured and flavoured to imitate true brandy, or to mixtures of brandy and alcohol derived from other sources than the produce of the grape, is not a legitimate excuse for the sale of such factitious articles as “brandy.” The great difficulty lies in differentiating by analytical means between the genuine article and the imitation. The vast majority of people, being utterly ignorant even of the elements of chemistry, labour under the impression that all that need be done in a matter of this kind is to tell the Public Analyst to “analyse,” and that full, exact, and absolutely definite information which nobody can call in question, will be forthcoming as a matter of course. The evidence given in the case under consideration is quite enough in itself to show the absurdity of this assumption. On the one hand the Public Analyst stated that he was satisfied, from the results of his general investigations in regard to brandy and from the results of his analysis of the sample submitted to him, that this sample contained 60 per cent. of spirit other than that derived from the produce of the grape. On the other hand, a number of analytical experts called for the defence asserted that in the present state of analytical knowledge it was perfectly impossible for any Public Analyst to arrive at the conclusion mentioned in regard to the sample in question, and that, as a fact, the analytical evidence adduced did not justify the statement made in the certificate on which the proceedings were founded. The defence do not appear to have denied that the Public Analyst might be right. In reality it appears only to have been contended that his analytical evidence was not, sufficient to prove that he was so. At any rate the experts called for the defence certainly did not prove by scientific evidence that he was wrong.


(1904), "British Food Journal Volume 6 Issue 6 1904", British Food Journal, Vol. 6 No. 6, pp. 123-148.




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