Canada’s Pure Food Problem

John MacCormac November 1 1912

Canada’s Pure Food Problem

John MacCormac November 1 1912

Canada’s Pure Food Problem

John MacCormac

There should be reciprocity in foodstuffs in Canada in at least one particular. As between producer and consumer there should be reciprocity in quality and prices—the quality should be as good as the price is high. That is all that is involved in the fight against adulterated products and in the campaign for pure foods. In Canada the battle has been less spectacular than that waged in the United States, but the results have been quite as satisfactory. Canadians, however, are not as familiar with Canadian laws and regulations touching food stuffs as they should be. In this article some salient facts concerning them are presented.

A WOMAN once pushed open the glass doors of a corner grocery store and made her way to its main counter. There was nothing in the least extraordinary or unusual about her and that is why her actions were significant for she typified the average Canadian housewife doing part of her daily buying.

The woman made two purchases. One was a tin of fruit jam and the other of chicken soup—at least that was what she asked and paid for but not what the genial grocer with the white apron and the smiling face parceled up for her. The woman knew the grocer ; he was a member of the congregation to which she belonged, where he taught a bible class and contributed generously to the mission fund. She considered him an upright man. And as the adjective is generally accepted, he was.

And yet, instead of the fruit jam and the chicken soup which this woman had ordered and had a right to expect what she really got were two tins, one containing a little—a very little—of the fruit of which such a highly colored representation appeared on the outside of the can ; some dextrin, which is

a substitute for gum arabic and not the best thing for the human stomach, and glucose, which is a sirupy compound you could make yourself by treating starch with dilute sulphuric acid. The other tin was labeled “chicken soup,” but it wasn’t. It was veal soup, and slightly spoiled veal soup at that, with a faint acidity of contents due to corrosion of the can in which it was contained.

Neither the jam which was not jam nor the chicken soup which was not chicken soup was so adulterated as to he actually dangerous in use and there are those who would urge that in such case the ignorance of the ultimate consumer was also his bliss and all for the good of the canning industry. The grocer—well the grocer would simply blame it on the manufacturer from whom he obtained his goods and let it go at that. The manufacturer might plead that “they all did it,” that competition was keen, necessitating a certain amount of leeway as regards quality, and finally that if the latter were inferior his prices were lower anyway.

As a matter of fact the blame might be divided between all three parties to the deal, the manufacturer who made

the goods, the grocer who retailed them and, finally, the average housewife who bought them. Yes, the housewife is at fault for much of the present adulteration of food in Canada as elsewhere and she will continue to be until she learns to apply her mother’s and her grandmother’3 old-fashioned methods of intelligent inspection of all purchases to modern systems of food selling. Canned goods are a comparatively recent development; two decades ago the average housewife of that time did not buy them and consequently had little to fear from adulteration. Yet one fancies that if the modern Canadian woman of a family paid the greater personal attention to detail that her predecessor did twenty years ago it would quickly become not only honesty but policy for the manufacturer to turn out pure goods.

The trouble is that often popular demand is in the other direction. The public desire for white flour, for instance, has resulted in the bleaching of much of the product by millers with oxides of nitrogen, and numerous other instances could be cited where a badly informed public opinion has tempted the manufacturers to adulteration.

But, while the education of the Canadian housewife will have to be left to time, her interests as the ultimate consumer are all along protected by an agency maintained by the government of this country, the food inspection branch of the inland revenue department. It is to this end, also, that there has been built up under the capable direction of Dr. A. McGill, chief analyst of this department and known as the Dr. Wiley of Canada, a system of national food control of which Canadians may be proud.

The question of the adulteration of food is, economically, easily one of the most important which the twentieth century has to solve. And as everybody has to eat, its solution is naturally one of universal interest not only from the point of view of the public but of the honest producer and trader himself. But to the working public, the great

mass who have to toil hard that they may earn their daily bread, it is of special import. Investigation has shown that where the purchaser with money to spend on more than his necessities seeks the best article and often, in fact, buys his food and drink for the sake of its flavor, he is not very likely to obtain an adulterated article, because the more expensive foods are seldom adulterated. It is the poorer purchaser who is buying his food for his daily nourishment who especially needs protection.

Then, if we look at the adulteration question from the point of view of the honest producer and trader it will become apparent that the unfair competition caused by trading in adulterated articles which can either be sold at a lower rate or a greater profit than the real thing is a very serious matter. Even if fraud with foodstuffs were not objectionable from a hygienic point of view commercial morality demands a food control. /


The result has been the promulgation, from time to time, of what are known as food standards, that is, definitions of what different foods should properly be, what should be their standards of quality and their limits of variability. The work, although only commenced a short time ago, has already made satisfactory progress and the standards of meat and meat products, grain and grain products, milk and its products, maple sugar and syrup as well as a number of other foods have already been defined by the advisory board which has charge of it. The chief act of parliament under which food control is carried out is the Adulteration Act, while the Inspection and Sales Act, the Meat and Canned Foods Act, the Canned Goods Act and the Customs Act, administered by different departments, have also to do with this branch of government activity. Under the; Adulteration Act samples are collected by the inspectors, analysed and the results published in bulletin form and where adulteration is found the

offender is specially notified. Adulteration of food in this country is taken to consist of reducing the quality or strength of the article in question by admixture, substitution of an inferior

substance, abstraction of a valuable constituent, imitation or false naming, or the addition of poison. Food is also adulterated which consists of diseased or putrid material whose strength or purity is below a fixed standard or

which is colored or coated to conceal damage, milk or butter from diseased animals being included. Where the matter added to food for the production or preparation of an article of commerce

in a state fit for carriage and consumption is not injurious to health such food is not regarded as adulterated but must be labelled a mixture. Adulteration of a character injurious to health, however, incurs a penalty not to exceed

8500 or six months’ imprisonment or both.

It will readily be seen that the determination of food standards is one of no little difficulty. Many articles of food are as yet not-susceptible to legal definition and this is the chief obstacle to the carrying of cases of adulteration into court. Yet all foodstuffs, whatever their origin, are by their very nature perishable and the products of their putrefaction, although not perhaps injurious to life, are such as to lessen the value of the food. It is therefore necessary, in arriving at a satisfactory definition, to make the first requisite one of soundness and, in the case of unmanufactured foods such as milk, to require normal origin. Milk is defined as the fresh, clean and unaltered product obtained by the complete, uninterrupted milking, under proper sanitary conditions, of one or more healthy cows, properly fed and kept, excluding that obtained two weeks before and one week after calving, and containing not less than three and one-quarter per cent, of milk fat and not less than eight and one-half per cent, milk solids other than fat. Although this legal minimum standard is fixed, however, it does not deprive any municipality of authority to enact a higher one, thus giving a community, willing to pay for what it gets, the right to state just what it is willing to buy and pay for as milk.


One of the main objects of food definition is the practical copyrighting of food names in the interest, of the public, whose property they are. This does not quite fall in with the wishes of some manufacturers who would like to adopt them as disguises. The manufacturer of oleomargarine would greatly prefer to label his product butter, for instance, cottonseed stearin, tallow oil and oil admixture are offered you as lard ; liquid glucose as syrup and solid glucose as sugar. A richly dyed solution of glue perhaps aspires to wide sale as red currant jelly and dilute acetic acid answers to the name of vinegar. Glucose syr-

up, too, is sometimes proffered to the unsuspecting customer under the disguise of table syrup or golden syrup, whereas golden syrup, by constant asso: dation, has really come to imply a cane sugar product. Chief Analyst McGill would make the disguising of glucose syrup illegal just because of this latter fact.

The man who produces a new food is naturally anxious to let you call it by an old and well known name if he can. Demand for a new product under a new name, you see, has to be cultivated and the public has to be educated, which is a matter involving much expense. Unless food names are legally protected, just as those medicines of a proprietary character, the producer is able to avoid this expense by allowing his new food to be known by the name of that of which it is really only an imitation of a substitute. '

While a number of unmanufactured goods may be so defined that the analyst is able to say of a certain sample, “This article is up to definition and therefore genuine,” it is almost impossible to attempt to do so with manufactured foods. One can require normal origin in a commodity like milk but it would be a mistake to demand fixity of method of production in raspberry jam, changes in the manufacture of which might tend only to improvement. In this case there is nothing left to the government but to fix constants, numerical or otherwise, which will enable it to say which foods have the right to be sold under certain names and which have not. Further than this it does not go. If an article is up to standard requirements it says so but does not aim to give the standard of purity, leaving it to the manufacturer of higher class goods, to do his own advertising while at the same time effecting the prevention of fraud by the maker of lower than standard foods.


What is the attitude of the Dominion Government toward food preservatives? Well, it is not so uncompromising as that of Dr. Wiley, the guardian angel

of the United States’ national stomach, who has more than once stated that he expects to “continue to work until I see the whole company of preservatives and coloring matters in the boneyard.” The view of our own chief analyst is that certain preservatives may be, at their worst, a necessary evil. Then there is a lot of misunderstanding about this whole question. Take the time-honored, every-day preservatives—salt, sugar, vinegar, spices, smoke, etc.—It has been demonstrated that any of these is capable of doing positive injury to digestion and yet no one thinks of banishing them or has any qualms about eating foods treated with them. The question for the expert then, in regard to the other class of preservatives, of which boric acid, formaldehyde and saccharin are perhaps the best known, is whether they may be employed in quantities so small as to have no harmful effect on the health while at the same time serving to preserve food. When it is borne in mind that, since the year 1906, there have been 26,311 recorded cases of ptomaine poisoning in the United States, of which 1,078 proved fatal, the vital import of devising some effective manner of preserving food becomes at once apparent. But for the use of preservatives the number might easily have been ten times as great.

Where foods are specially intended for the use of infants and invalids, however, Dr. McGill considers they should be entirely free from potent chemical preservatives. He is also of opinion that the presence of all preservatives not perceptible by the senses should be plainly stated on the labels of all foods and the smallest possible amount to be effective used.

Canadian national food control prohibits the use of coloring matters harmful to health, employed in making an article seem to be what it is not or to enhance the apparent value of an inferior product, but does not object to the use of colors to give attractiveness to candies, cheese, butter, cake icing, green peas or other foods.

The results of the examinations made are published in the form of bulletins

by ^ the inland revenue department, which does not hesitate to say what it means. In the case of infant foods, for example, the chief analyst reports that, “It must be said of some of those directed to be prepared with water only that they would seem to provide a starvation diet for infants, so far as the fat is concerned.”

Another bulletin points out that those of us who have been satisfying our thirst and temperance principles at the same time by consuming the supposedly innocuous root beer and the apparently harmless ginger ale, have really been whited sepulchres all along for, says the bulletin, “two samples sold as root beer and ginger beer respectively contain alcohol equivalent to more than four per cent, of proof spirit and on this account should be regarded as alcoholic beverages, although they are not. malt liquors.”

While our non-alcoholic liquors are, however, sometimes too strong, cur openly spirituous ones are found to be too weak. According to a report on distilled liquors in Quebec province, “more than thirty per cent, of the whiskey samples fell short of containing half the alcohol strength known as proof. There can be no doubt that this constitutes a real fraud and calls for legal redress.”

Besides the adulteration of food in solid or liquid form the department has given much consideration to patent medicines. Gnlv recently a bulletin on headache powders informed the remedy buying public that it was purchasing compounds which in many cases contained drugs decidedly injurious to health and in fact dangerous to life. More than half the powders examined contained a dose of acetinilide which, with phenacetine is usually the chief ingredient of these nostrums, in amount greater than the limit declared safe by expert medical authority and without, in some cases, any indication of the presence of these drugs. In others the latter was concealed under various technical terms, while preposterous claims as to their curative powers were frequently made.