While dealing with samples as they arrive daily, and sometimes hourly, throughout the year, the Public Analyst gets little opportunity of reflecting on the general trend of his work, its significance in the life of the community, and upon the changes in conditions and customs that may have some bearing on its development. The occasion to take a few hours off from the daily routine in writing this Annual Report provides an appropriate opportunity to look at the work in some sort of perspective, to review briefly the past and to cast a glance towards the future. The concept of Public Analysts occurred in the 1860's, when there was no dearth of evidence that all was not as well as it should be in the matter of foods and drugs on sale to the public but reform in these matters made a slow start for the simple reason that only isolated practitioners were available who possessed the necessary competence and experience. Bearing in mind the simple character of their apparatus, the limited range of their reagents, and the almost complete absence of technical literature, we, their successors, take off our hats to the early pioneer Public Analysts. With little encouragement and for small reward they plodded away to expose to daylight the crude forms of adulteration then being practised and commenced the process of debunking the unwarranted claims made for many preparations on sale. They developed a science of analytical chemistry at their own expense, devised their own processes, and produced their own literature, thus beginning the slow process that ultimately made possible the greatly improved standards prevailing today in the quality of the foods and drugs available to the public. So much for the reasonably glorious past. With regard to the present, although the Public Analyst is far from complacent about the existing state of affairs, and is in fact in many ways dissatisfied and highly critical of his organisation, he nevertheless realises that there is much to be thankful for. For one thing, the public, who, curiously enough, in the past have shown a morbid fascination for worthless products as long as they were attractively packed and glamorously advertised, are now becoming more enlightened in matters of food. They dislike having their illusions shattered, but they are beginning to appreciate the bearing that pure food has upon their health, and honest food on their pockets. As the Public Analyst is virtually responsible for bringing about these things, he has come to be more acceptable, and his existence is less begrudged than H.M. Inspector of Taxes, for instance. In the second place, as one consequence of the increasing knowledge of nutrition, important sections of the Ministry of Food have been deputed to bring up to date the law on food questions, to introduce definite standards of composition, and to fix limits for impurities. The Ministry has also dealt with the question of labelling and advertising, and has, in fact, done some excellent work in this direction. The result is that a Public Analyst no longer works, as it were, in vacuo, having to pit his own opinion against that of the defence, but has a good deal of official backing which enables him to assess his problems with more precision. In the third place, the Royal Institute of Chemistry has regularised the standard of competence of Public Analysts, and has played its part in ensuring that facilities are provided for the training of necessary recruits to the profession. There are, on the other hand, some notable weak points in the present position which occasion concern. Generally speaking, Public Analysts have fallen sadly behind in the economic scale, and frequently have the depressing experience of seeing promising young analysts go off at a tangent into industry, teaching, and other professions, just as they are accumulating the specialised experience which is a necessary complement to their basic training to make them good future Public Analysts. There is one outstanding technical anomaly which has been commented upon a good deal recently. The mass production of foodstuffs accompanied by nationallywide advertising has resulted in identically similar articles being obtainable almost anywhere between Land's End and John O'Groats. As the situation is at present, every Public Analyst is liable to sample the same product, which is not only inefficient in that it entails duplication of work, but, where prosecutions are made, may lead to uneven standards of justice being applied in different parts of the country. The manufacturers have to attempt to clear themselves in the eyes of the law many times for what is virtually the same offence. This is typical of a number of matters which Public Analysts themselves are conscious of and hope to see put right. The next few years may possibly see radical changes in the organisation. Some revolutionary suggestions are being put forward that the status quo should be scrapped and replaced by a few regional laboratories, but the matter needs very careful consideration. In theory laboratories organised in larger units would make for greater efficiency, and, indeed, only those beyond a certain minimum size could justify all the necessary equipment. . But the work of the Public Analyst has always had, and still retains, a good deal of local character, and matters can often be put right by personal contact where official action from a remote centre would not achieve the desired effect. The Analyst should begin to lose the one guinea per sample mentality and be regarded as a consultant to his local authority on all chemical matters. Given a direct approach to the various committees with which he comes into contact, adequate accommodation and equipment, and sufficient suitably trained staff to make some degree of specialisation possible, the present organisation has many years of useful work before it. Problems concerning water supply, sewage disposal, atmospheric pollution, and similar matters, will always arise while short of some radical change in human nature the percentage of adulterated samples of food and drugs, either as a result of fraud, misunderstanding, or accident, will not go down to nil. Until that desirable state of affairs comes about, the public will need, and possibly demand, expert protection of the kind which is at present associated with the Public Analyst.
British Food Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: Feb 1, 1951