Mr. Neville Chamberlain, Minister of Health, speaking at a luncheon given by the Provision Trade Section of the London Chamber of Commerce, on November 24th, said that anyone who occupied his office must in doing his duty take whatever steps might seem to be necessary in order to preserve and to maintain the public health. It might be that in the execution of those measures it was necessary to inflict some inconvenience, and even some hardship, upon individual members of the community, but he had always found that those who were so affected, if they could be convinced that the action taken was necessary in the interest of the community, were willing to accept those hardships and to make the sacrifices necessary without complaint. On the other hand, it was his duty to recognize public spirit of that kind, and to do all that was in his power to minimize the hardship, to remove inequalities, and to take away as far as possible the objections that might be made to him by those concerned. As one who was a trader for a good many more years than he had been a politician, he looked upon any measures which might be likely to interfere with trade with a particular desire to make them as easy as possible, because the very last thing they wanted to do today was to reduce employment or to make trade and industry more difficult. The question of the harmfulness of preservatives in food had received a great deal of attention both in this country and in other countries for a good many years, but up to the present this country bad not gone so far in the matter as others. When it was decided to set up a new committee to investigate the question afresh in this country, great care was exercised to constitute the committee of men who were competent by reason of their training and their experience to pronounce authoritatively upon the matters submitted to them. The committee divided preservatives into three groups, arranged in order of harmfulness to health. In the first group they placed formaldehyde and hydrofluoric acid: in the second, boric and salicylic acid: and in the third, benzoic acid and sulphur dioxide. They came to the conclusion that the preservatives in the first two groups should be prohibited altogether, and those in the third group should be permitted only to a limited extent. As a result of discussions that had taken place between the London Chamber of Commerce and the officers of his department, a very large number of concessions were made, but the department felt that in considering the objections they must not lose sight of the main principles which underlaid the committee's report, and in particular they did not see their way to remove the prohibition of boron compounds, which really formed the crux of the difficulties. These compounds were poisonous; they did not add anything to the nourishment of the human body, but they were very readily soluble and were conveyed by the blood stream to every part of the body. Moreover, they were cumulative in effect. They certainly should not lose sight of the fact that during the last forty years, in which the use of boric acid bad been gradually increasing, there had been a very considerable increase in the prevalence of certain digestive disorders. In certain countries the use of these preservatives was absolutely prohibited, and it seemed to him that as Minister of Health he could not go on defending a system which was clearly open to the accusation that it was injuring the health of the people, even if it could not be clearly proved that it could be done without. Another point was that by the use of preservatives it was possible to mask the signs of putrefaction. Time was being allowed traders, importers and manufacturers to make the adjustments in their business and equipment that were necessary on account of the new regulations, and he felt confident that he would have their co‐operation in carrying them to a successful conclusion.
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