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The endeavour that is being made at the present time to rouse public interest in the extremely important question of the purity of the national milk supply is one that deserves unqualified praise. It is in no spirit of carping criticism that it is here pointed out that the partial and unofficial remedy by which it is proposed to diminish the risk to the consumer may in itself be indirectly a means of continuing what has become a grave public danger. No reasonable doubt can exist that pasteurization as a method of dealing with large quantities of milk in bulk and from all sources will be of considerable use. It will certainly tend, if carried into effect to the extent and in the way suggested, to greatly lessen the risk that consumers run at the present time. It will prevent a large amount of disease that arises from the consumption of impure milk. But such a method, however admirable and philanthropic in conception and sound in theory, is one that by no means answers all, or even a part of, the large number of important questions connected with the subject. The general public and honest milk dealers will, it is to be hoped, benefit by the new milk legislation that is proposed by the Local Government Board and by the London County Council. The public, however, is very apt to be caught by a phrase, and may, therefore, think that milk pasteurization is the beginning and the end of all that need or can be said on the subject. It is likely that the foundation of depots for the preparation and supply of pasteurized milk will blind its eyes to the fact that the evils which have rendered the establishment of such places necessary remain untouched. Indeed, the very fact that milk depots of this kind are at work may be used by interested persons as evidence that all hygienic requirements have been complied with, that for this reason veterinary considerations may be ruled out of court, and that the necessity for further legislation of a more fundamental and drastic kind no longer exists. The agitation that is taking place at the present moment is no new thing. For many years past the matter has engaged the most serious attention of those experts whose business it is to investigate and, as far as they are permitted, to control the quality of the milk supplies of both our town and country districts. For example, a perusal of the annual reports of the Local Government Board that have been issued since that Board was instituted in the early seventies, will satisfy any one, who takes the time and trouble to read them, that Public Analysts have from time to time animadverted in terms more or less strong on the poor quality of the milk supplied, and that even if the field of inquiry be limited to what may be called purely analytical standards the difficulties of the case are enormous, even if they be looked at from the best and the most hopeful point of view. At the present moment we are more concerned with the equally important hygienic aspect of the question. Local selfgovernment, while conferring a large amount of autonomy on administrative units, has naturally resulted in an almost entire absence of any definite national system that can deal with the important subject of food supply generally and milk supply in particular. At the present time it is left to the local authority to decide whether it will or will not apply for powers from the central authoritythe Local Government Boardto put into force regulations under the Dairies, Cowsheds, and Milkshops Order, though in cases where this has been done the benefit to all concerned has been marked, and the necessity for such action demonstrated. The subject of the milk supply divides itself, roughly speaking, into three branches, which may be referred to under the headings of Production, Carriage, and Sale, though it is evident that no sharp line of demarcation can be drawn. With regard to all of these the law is either defective or nonexistent. Under the present system prosecutions are mostly instituted against persons of whom it is alleged that they have knowingly sold milk from which fat has been abstracted or to which water has been added, but even here the difficulties connected with the administration of the Sale of Food and Drugs Acts in the case of milk have been a constant subject of discussion between the officers of local authorities and the Board's Inspectors. What these difficulties are are well known to all who are brought into contact with the administration of the Food and Drugs Acts, but any one can satisfy himself as to them by reference to, say, the last annual report of the Board of Agriculture in this respect, keeping in mind, at the same time, the fact that only one aspect of the case is there dealt with. Under the heading of Production brief reference may be made to the subject of the cow and her surroundings. Much evidence exists which shows the urgent need for expert and unbiassed hygienic and veterinary inspection of all dairy farms, cowsheds, and cows. In much that has been recently written on the subject of pure milk in the daily press, it is somewhat remarkable to note that while the dangers that arise from drinking raw milk derived from tuberculous cows has been rightly insisted on, comparatively little reference has been made to the importance of cow and cowshed inspection. It is unfortunately the case in too many instances that the owners of cows are content to house the animals in sheds under conditions that are usually, though wrongly, thought to be fit only for pigs. This, of course, leaves entirely out of the question the fact that the animals themselves may be tuberculous or otherwise diseased, and therefore a source of most serious danger to the public health. With regard to carriage of milk it may be pointed out that the modern city draws its supply of milk from all over the country, and that this means a rail journey of frequently some hours' duration. Our modes of transporting and handling milk have not, however, kept pace with modern requirements. The frequently Arcadian simplicity of the methods in vogue would appeal the more strongly to lovers of the picturesque if they did not lead so often to the introduction of filth of all kinds into the milk cans. Lastly, regarding the sale of milk from retailer to consumer, the public itself is largely to blame for the objectionable practice of adding colouring matter to the milk. A general impression is abroad among the poorer, and therefore it may be presumed the more ignorant, consumers, that milk is not genuine unless it be what is called cream coloured. Hence the introduction of annatto or some less innocent substance. For the frequent presence of such substances as formaldehyde, boracic acid, and other preservatives no excuse of any kind exists. Such practices are simply means but too often resorted to of masking incipient putrefaction induced by tardy and uncleanly methods. At the same time, these dangerous chemical preservatives make the food more difficult of digestion, with results to young children and persons in weak health that are too obvious to need comment. In addition to all this the milk may be subjected, of course, to adulteration of the usual kind. Hence the present position is that against defective methods of production and sale, outofdate methods of transport, absence of any national and compulsory system of inspection and control, and a law that is either deficient or hopelessly tangled, a semiphilanthropic method is proposed which, though probably sound and admirable in itself, is almost certain to be used by the unserupulous as a means of preventing the important problem of our milk supply being attacked in the only way in which there is reasonable hope of successthat is, by an appeal to the cow and its surroundings. Unless the method of pasteurization be recognised as a useful but still a subordinate means of dealing with an already contaminated substance, it is more than likely that tinkering and generally unsatisfactory legislation will be resorted to, and that as a result of this the state of the milk supply will remain very much as it is at present.
British Food Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: Feb 1, 1908
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