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British Food Journal Volume 32 Issue 8 1930

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 August 1930



The interests of Public Health in its medical aspect would seem to have always received support in the Union of South Africa. In the year 1911–12, for instance, the sum of one hundred thousand pounds was expended; in the year of the influenza epidemic three times that sum. The present rate of expenditure is in the neighbourhood of a quarter of a million. There are many public bodies who concern themselves with health conditions in the Union and they are all in touch with the central authority. The officials of the Public Health Department were eagerly waiting for this new Food and Drugs Act to become operative. The growth of industry in South Africa and its bearing on the future of the nation has been fully recognised if the statute book may be taken as a reliable guide. Thus the system of weights and measures was unified by the Act of 1923; the growth of industry encouraged by such Acts as that of the Iron and Steel Industry Encouragement Act of 1922; industrial machinery has been made to run more smoothly by the Industrial Conciliation Act, 1924, and the Wages Act, 1925. Public Health has been safeguarded by the creation of the Public Health Department and by the Public Health Act, 1919, and the Medical, Dental, and Pharmacy Act, 1928; but it was only six months ago that the Act under review came into operation, and the matter with which this Act is concerned lies at the very foundations of public health. The Bill was introduced by the Minister for Public Health on the 2nd February, 1928; and read for the second time on the 27th February. It received the cordial support of both Senate and House of Assembly. Not a dissentient voice was raised. Everyone was eager to support the urgent representations that had been made by such public bodies as the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Board of Trade and Agriculture, the Union Council of Public Health, and all the larger municipalities. The Bill had been drawn up after a careful study of similar Australian, New Zealand, and United States legislation. The existing Acts were hopelessly out of date. The Natal and Free State Acts had been founded on the Cape Province Act, and this in its turn on the English Act of 1875, so that legislation was over fifty years old at the time of repeal. Official figures showed that harmful adulteration might be as high as ten per cent. of the samples submitted and these figures certainly did not give a true idea of the extent of such adulteration. As to adulteration with non‐injurious substances it may be sufficient to state that 27 per cent. of butter samples taken in Cape Town contained from 11 to 6 per cent. of foreign fat. Coffee is almost a universal drink among the Dutch population of South Africa, but owing to the inadequacy of the laws the country had, in the words of a witness in Committee, become “ a dumping ground ” for coffee of such an inferior kind that it is difficult to imagine anyone who could get anything better drinking it. Nevertheless it was described by the vendors in such glowing terms as to call forth protests from the Brazilian consul. Sometimes “ coffee ” was not coffee at all. It might be “ banana skins !” Sometimes it was worse than this. Such was a consignment of coffee from Hamburg. It had been in store for more than two years, and its first use was to nourish a large population of weevils—we understand that coffee must be two years old and over before this can happen. These creatures had made such good use of their opportunity that not much was left of the original coffee. As such stuff was only fit for the rubbish destructor it went to South Africa. The bits of beans plus weevils were embedded in a clay matrix, of the proper shape, to give them coherence, baked, stained, and polished—by the way it may be said that the staining and polishing of coffee had by this time assumed the character and dimensions of a skilled industry. Fortunately at this stage of the proceedings the health authorities at Cape Town intervened. It was stated by the Minister who introduced the Bill, with some reserve, that the incidence of adulteration had reached such proportions that the commercial morality of the Union in general was beginning to deteriorate. We should think so. There was certainly little to encourage the ordinary trader to put Sunday school maxims into practice. Fortunately public patience broke down before public health. On the 1st March the Bill was read for the first time in the Senate. It went into the Committee stage on the 8th. Here the usual revelations were made. Milk had, of course, received its full share of attention. So much so indeed that the Act forbids a milk vendor to carry skim milk or water in the same cart when delivering whole milk. It also appeared in evidence that a dairyman had only to keep two or three cows, which yielded inferior milk, in his herd, water the milk of the lot and plead the cow, when prosecuted, with impunity. More than that such a cow was actually hired out to another milk vendor, whom the authorities were wicked enough to prosecute, so that he might take advantage of the peculiarities of the animal and the weakness of the law. It is said that Huxley had great faith in the elasticity of the Hebrew language in the hands of Biblical commentators, it cannot surpass our belief in the almost infinite possibilities of the cow when milk prosecutions are “ going,” but this new use for old cows had not occurred to us. An important witness stated that in his opinion the 3 per cent. minimum for fat in milk is very low, very little lower indeed than the average standard for milk in Cape Town. Cape Town milk it seems is poorer in fat than up country milk. This has been attributed to the Friesian cattle as in “ short horn ” districts, the fat percentage is always higher. Nevertheless Act No. 13, 1929, Chap. II., Part C. s. 17 (3) still declares the minimum fat content for milk sold for domestic purposes to be 3 per cent. Thus, it seems to us, a good opportunity of raising the minimum legal fat content to the great benefit of everybody has been missed. Most assuredly it will not readily recur. No doubt there would have been strong opposition on the part of the trade had any attempt been made to raise this low standard. There always has been. If we had had any doubt on the subject of trade opposition that doubt would have been removed by the following. The same witnesses stated that all the best brands of herds in the Cape Peninsular, are tested for tuberculosis which is “ very prevalent. ” He agreed that milk from tuberculous cows was “ highly dangerous to infant life. ” In reply as to whether it would not be safer to have all herds compulsorily tested, he said: “ It is a question they are afraid to tackle. ” They have been at it for the last 25 years. “ Q. What is the reason? Is it because ” tuberculosis is too prevalent in the Cape A. “ No. I think it is because it affects so many people. “ Had they started it 25 years ago there would not have been this trouble to‐day. “ During the past few years manufacturers of fruit juices and the like had written asking for particulars of food standards and enclosing copies of analyses. It had to be stated in reply that there were no food standards, but that a draft Food and Drugs Bill had been prepared and would probably be before the House during the next session. The Assistant Health officer of the Union who made this statement added, “ I have had to resort to this method of excluding adulterated food for the last three or four years and cannot carry on much longer. ” To send fruit juices to the land of fruit seems rather like sending coals to Newcastle. However, the addition of pectinous matter to preparations of fruits naturally deficient in pectin is well known, necessary, and permissible. But if this be done with the object of overloading, a jam declared to be made of one kind of fruit with a cheaper undeclared pulp it is a fraud which the Act is drawn to prevent. Chap. V. s. 42 empowers the Minister to make regulations under the Act and publish them in the Gazette. In the issue of the 28th March, p. 9, “jam” is defined. No mineral acid, flavouring substance, nor any vegetable substance save that derived from the varieties of fruits named on the label are permitted, but the jam may contain “a trace” of fruit‐derived malic, citric or tartaric acid, colouring matters as scheduled (p. 4) and added pectin not exceeding 0·3 per cent. calculated as calcium pectate. In “Fruit jelly” this may be 0·6 per cent. It is evident that without this regulation a consumer in this country of South African fruit products would have had no assurance that he was not getting synthetic products of European manufacture in South African fruit tins. As a last instance of the ease with which the law might be evaded and adulteration practiced the following may suffice. An inspector in the Cape Province asked for some “ mixed coffee. ” It was supplied him labelled “ mixed coffee ” with a verbal intimation that it contained 25 per cent. of chicory. It did, and 10 per cent. of ground acorns in addition. The conviction which followed was quashed on appeal by Mr. Justice Solomon on the grounds that acorns cost as much as chicory, that they were not shown to have been added to fraudulently increase the bulk, and that there was no evidence that acorns were injurious to health. It need hardly be said that this decision, extra‐ordinary thought thought it may seem, was in strict accordance with the letter of the law in this case, presumably ss. 6 and 7 of the Cape Province Act. Readers who may have followed us so far will probably by this time have come to the conclusion that any change in the law would have been for the better in the interests of the public health and the commercial reputation of the Union. Moreover as the instances of rascally practice that we have cited do not seem to have been at all “ out of the way, ” the successful continuance of such practice under what really amounted to legal protection would induce a belief that the people who would put up with such things must, in the words of Oriental euphemism, be “ afflicted of God ”; and belief in the existence of this unhappy state of things would have been considerably strengthened by the knowledge that at the very time they were spending thousands every year in the interests of public health, the Department of Public Health itself was almost hopelessly oppressed by the incubus of sub‐fossil legislation fifty years behind the times. That while the country was being advertised as a tourist ground and health resort no one from Cape Town to Johannesburg could be sure that any food product he might buy would not be grossly and harmfully adulterated. That while they were building up an extensive overseas trade in foodstuffs they were content to eat and to drink any rubbish that might be foisted on them. While the delay of the Government in amending the law and so putting an end to a state of things that had apparently become a sort of public scandal is hard to understand. It has taken fourteen years! We recall the action of Mr. Snodgrass in the street row in Ipswich who “ in a truly Christian spirit, and in order that he might take no one unawares, announced in a very loud tone that he was going to begin, and proceeded to take off his coat with the utmost deliberation. ”


(1930), "British Food Journal Volume 32 Issue 8 1930", British Food Journal, Vol. 32 No. 8, pp. 71-80.




Copyright © 1930, MCB UP Limited

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