British Food Journal Volume 35 Issue 1 1933
Article publication date: 1 January 1933
The recent history and present state of the canning industry in the United States make anything but cheerful reading. If growers and producers can derive any satisfaction by reflecting that all the other great industries are in much the same state of suspended animation, with no immediate prospect of “coming to,” they are certainly welcome to it, as under present conditions it is about the only satisfaction they will get, for the problems facing the trade and associated industries are as urgent as they seem insoluble. Prices of agricultural products have suffered an all‐round and very serious decline, and all exports are down. Packing‐house products have lessened by about one‐third in value and about one‐half in quantity when compared with those of 1930. The 1932 Year Book of Agriculture states that the exports of canned vegetables have declined by 33 per cent. in quantity and in value. The causes hardly need restating. Expansion as a result of war conditions and those immediately succeeding the war, and then restricted buying power in the home and foreign markets, has resulted in a futile attempt to market about twice as much as people were able to buy. A cursory inspection of the official figures relating to production in field and orchard, output in the factory, and export oversea, tell the tale with the dreadful eloquence of figures. The industry is fiscally well protected. The Tariff Act of 1930 shows that there is a duty on “ meat—prepared or preserved ” of six cents per lb., but not less than 20 per cent. ad valorem, unless it is otherwise specially provided for (paragraph 706). Fish prepared or preserved in any manner in oil or in oil and other substances 30 per cent. ad valorem (paragraph 718a), or prepared or preserved in any manner (except as in para. 718a) when packed in airtight containers weighing with their contents not more than 15 lbs. each, 25 per cent. ad valorem, and (paragraph 721c) fish sauce and fish paste 30 per cent. ad valorem. Apricots, berries, plums, peaches, pears, other fruits and all jellies, jams, marmalades and fruit butters, fruit pastes and fruit pulps have (paragraphs 735, 736, 745, 748, 749, 751, 752 and 775) a duty levied on them of 35 per cent. ad valorem. Apples—and the United States is by far the largest exporter of apples in the world—when dried, desiccated, or evaporated are subject to a duty of two cents per lb., and if otherwise prepared or preserved, and not specially provided for, 2½ cents per lb. Most assuredly all would be well with the industry if a tariff wall could do it. The home market is immense, and all fruits, temperate, tropical or semi‐tropical varieties, can be grown in the United States or its dependencies, and many of the fruits cannot be grown at all in countries that otherwise might be their competitors, or if grown are grown at disadvantages arising from either climate or limitation of area, late development of the industry, distance from the chief markets, insufficient means of transport, or want of development in technique, skill or knowledge. It has been said that the United States' packers spend twenty millions of money a year in advertising, and they make use, as is well known, of every device that modern science combined with the skill of specialists in this respect places at their disposal. It seems that for the past ten or fifteen years a growing competition has existed between canned and fresh fruits, or, to put it a little more accurately, between canners of fruit and growers of fruit. This would to some extent explain how it has come about that the powers of advertisement have been so strongly appealed to, as the figures just quoted show. The “ prejudice,” to use the official word, in favour of raw as opposed to canned fruit has by this means been partly overcome. We may remark in passing that the word “ prejudice ” is here not very happily chosen, as it seems to imply an unreasonable dislike on the part of the consumer. The preference, however, for the raw fruits of the earth is as old as the human race itself. No matter how skilfully canning may be carried out—and it is stated that no case of botulism due to commercially‐packed fruit has been encountered by the health authorities for the past two years—man, woman and especially the child will always in the future as in the past prefer freshly‐picked fruit to canned fruit, other things being equal. Good though it may be, canned fruit suffers from a deficiency of Vitamin C, and for that reason it can only be regarded as a substitute for the fresh stuff when this is not obtainable. No amount of propaganda will alter this. Not only, however, is there competition between the sellers of raw and the sellers of canned fruit, but there is competition between the canners themselves, and sharp competition may very easily in the long run lead to inferiority of product. Thus in an effort to stop “ some of the trade abuses which have grown up,” we are told that several trade organisations have been established, each one handling one particular product and to thereby control the orderly marketing of some lines of canned food. What exact form the implied disorderly marketing took we are not told, but we do know that some packers were marketing stuff which though not in conflict with the terms of the Food and Drugs Act was still of a quality distinctly inferior to the products which were being marketed by their competitors who paid more regard to the spirit of the law. A decided tendency was thereby created to lower the general standard of excellence of canned food products and thus injuriously to affect, if not to nullify, the good name of American canned foods. It is of little use to stand, so to speak, in the markets of the world and shout to gods and men to acknowledge the superior quality of your goods when it is only a question of time for the consumers to find out that they are not that which they are said to be. The man at home or abroad very naturally will not pay top prices for a tin of scraps or second‐rate stuff if he can help it. A compromise was then brought about to which exception might conceivably be taken on theoretical as well as on practical grounds by those whom we may call food purists, but the spirit of compromise has often been the saviour of Anglo‐Saxon civilisation and vested interests. It was so in this case. The Mc‐Nary Mapes Amendment to the Food and Drugs Act was at the instance of the more reputable packing houses applied to the trade of canned fruits and vege tables. By the terms of this amendment sub‐standard material may be marketed, but it must be clearly labelled as such in order that the consumer may at least receive a warning as to the real nature of the stuff he is buying. “ Below United Stales standard. Low quality, but not illegal.” Caveat emptor ! At first the canned fruit trade had not been affected by this amendment, which applied to other kinds of canned foods, but in July of 1931 the canning industry was given an official grading service under the Federal Government, the Department of Agriculture being made responsible for its administration. Grading offices are now being established in various parts of the States. A canner may on application to the Secretary of Agriculture submit samples either drawn by himself, or by an officer of the Department, or by an official sampler. The Department will then, after examination, issue a certificate of grade. This certificate has the important property of “ being admissible in all Courts of the United States as primâ facie evidence of the truth of the statements contained therein.” It is hardly necessary to point out how useful such a document proves in the case of legal actions, or to the wholesale buyer or agent. The canners, buyers and warehousemen, we are told, support the idea enthusiastically, and it seems that it is only a question of time before all canned fruits and vegetables will be officially standarised and graded. One result of the amendment is that before a grade certificate is issued the contents of the tin must be proved to be tender and well cooked. This in addition to quality in other respects and to fill of can. The apparatus used to determine this is essentially a mercury‐loaded steal plunger of given diameter working in a vertical collar. The point of the plunger is brought into contact with a specimen of the fruit to be tested. The plunger is loaded. The fruit being at length penetrated by the plunger. The combined weight of plunger, flask and mercury needed to bring this about being a measure of the tenderness of the fruit.
(1933), "British Food Journal Volume 35 Issue 1 1933", British Food Journal, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1108/eb011254
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