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British Food Journal Volume 32 Issue 10 1930

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 October 1930



Our attention has been called to a question raised in a contemporary as to the disposal of the flesh of bovines which have been compulsorily slaughtered as the result of having obviously contracted tuberculosis. We say “compulsory” as the slaughter is carried out by order of the Ministry of Agriculture and “obvious” as tuberculous infection is in many cases not readily detectable. It should be pointed out that the flesh of an infected bovine may be used for food according to the degree and nature of the infection, but the use of the flesh for such a purpose is only permissible at the discretion of the official veterinary expert acting on behalf of the Ministry in the interests of public health. Admittedly the regulations as at present laid down and under which the Ministry of Agriculture act are by no means ideal, and we have no doubt that the officials of the Ministry would be the last persons to say that they were. Like all such regulations, they are of the nature of a compromise, by which statement we do not mean that the monetary interests of the trades in milk and beef are placed before those of public health. Far from it. The ideal condition aimed at is of course to have all milk and all beef free from the slightest taint and risk of tubercular infection. It is, however, no use to disguise the fact that the attainment of such an ideal is and of necessity must be a long way from accomplishment. It is only within this century that bovine tuberculosis has received serious attention in this country, and bovine tuberculosis is an evil legacy from a long past. It is no doubt in part at least attributable to long continued bad housing and feeding that went on unchecked from year to year. It is well known that in the neighbourhood of large towns where open pasture was not readily attainable cows were sometimes kept in what were little better than cellars, from which they seldom emerged. A cow was looked upon as a sort of machine for yielding milk, and no regard was paid to the way in which the machine was run so long as it delivered the goods, no matter of what quality the goods might be. The conditions for the development of tuberculosis were thus almost as good as if they had been deliberately devised for that very purpose, with results that we have now every reason to deplore. It is only twenty years since Prof. MacFadyean stated that 20 per cent. of the adult cattle in the country were tuberculous, and on the authority of the veterinary surgeon to the King at the same time 36 out of a herd of 40 cows that had belonged to Queen Victoria were tuberculous. If these were the conditions but twenty years ago throughout the country, and if nine out of every ten animals which were kept under the best conditions and received every care were tuberculous, the difficulty and extraordinary complexity of the problem confronting the Ministries concerned at the present day in their attempts to check the evil may be perhaps imagined. Checked it may be but eradication is not in sight. For if the drastic expedient were resorted to of slaughtering every tuberculous bovine in the country the result would be a milk famine. Prices would rise so that for the poor milk would be unobtainable. Many in the trade would be ruined, and perhaps the supply of milk would have to be obtained by importations of milk from abroad produced under conditions over which we could exercise no control. This hypothetical aspect of affairs, however, need not be further discussed.—The administration of the Tuberculosis Order, 1925 (Diseases of Animals Acts, 1894 to 1925), by the Ministry of Agriculture is therefore one of great difficulty. The “waste of years” cannot be “refunded in a day.” The matter calls for constant expert veterinary supervision.—Under Section 3 (1) of the Order the disease is notifiable to the Local Authority. Veterinary inspection follows, and if the animal is found to be suffering from tuberculosis of the udder, tuberculous emaciation, or a chronic cough or yielding tuberculous milk the Local Authority shall order the animal to be slaughtered, though if the owner objects to this the special authority of the Minister has to be obtained. It does not follow that the flesh of a tuberculous animal is unfit to be used as human food. Under 5A.1 of the Order if it is intended to use the flesh for this purpose the Local Authority must notify the Sanitary Authority of the time and place of slaughter. After this neither the carcase nor any part of it may be removed from the slaughter house unless by leave of the Medical Officer of Health or by other competent officer of the Authority.—Removal before such leave is an offence under the Act.—It may be observed here that no animal whose value is stated to be over fifty pounds may be slaughtered under the Order except by Ministerial sanction.—Compensation is payable to the owner of an animal, which has been slaughtered under the Order, by the Local Authority. All this is clear and fair, but as illustrating one of the difficulties of administering the Order, it may be pointed out that these perfectly fair and reasonable regulations made in the interests of public health were found to be indirectly in conflict with public ignorance and prejudice. In this way. In certain industrial districts in the country lean meat was demanded by some of the working class families. The reason being that more nourishment could be got out of lean than out of fat. There is something to be said for this. But where did the lean meat come from? An emaciated beast without a bit of fat on it might well be suffering from tuberculosis. It would pay an unscrupulous owner of such a beast very much better to sell it direct to a dealer in such meat—no information being given and no questions being asked—rather than go to the trouble of observing the Act and receiving a possibly smaller amount of money which would have been paid him under the Order. Thus quite a flourishing trade in such diseased meat was in fair way to grow up, and until the evil was traced to its source and the original owner prosecuted for non‐notification it could not be stopped. Again, the owner of an animal that has been slaughtered under the Order is entitled to recover its full market value and twenty shillings over if it is found that no tubercle exists; if tuberculosis, but not of an advanced state is found, then three‐fourths of the market value or forty‐five shillings, whichever sum is the greater less one‐half the costs of valuation; if advanced tuberculosis is present then one‐fourth the market value or the sum of forty‐five shillings as before under Section 9 i., ii., and iii. of the Order. The result of this was that certain people established a somewhat paying business in buying obviously tuberculous cows from a cowkeeper for a mere song, the cowkeeper being quite willing to get rid of them in this way and thus save himself trouble and the small amount of publicity he would have incurred had he observed the terms of the Order. The buyer would then notify the authority that he had a tuberculous cow and obtain compensation which yielded him a profit. The report for 1928 shows that nearly 17,000 animals were slaughtered under the Order during the year, and nearly 200 were in such a condition that they died before they could be slaughtered! It may also be observed that the powers conferred by Act of Parliament on the responsible Ministries were not readily obtained. Trade interests were alleged, and effective legislation had to be built up in the face of this. Tuberculosis is unhappily somewhat firmly established in our herds of cattle and it will still require long and patient work, expert knowledge and, as it will have been seen, the methods of police detectives before the menace is removed, if it ever can be.


(1930), "British Food Journal Volume 32 Issue 10 1930", British Food Journal, Vol. 32 No. 10, pp. 91-100.




Copyright © 1930, MCB UP Limited

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