HL Deb 13 November 1917 vol 26 cc955-8

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government the Question standing in my name

Whether it is a fact, as stated in the public Press, that the leaflet of the Board of Agriculture recommending the use of glucose, salicylic acid, and coal tar, saccharine, or saxin as sugar substitutes in jam, has been condemned by the Kensington Public Health Committee on the ground of possible danger to health, and whether the public analyst told the Committee that glucose is liable to contamination with arsenic, that salicylic acid was a dangerous drug which should be administered only under medical direction, and that the use of saccharine, except under medical supervision, had been recently prohibited in America, and was entirely prohibited in France in certain commodities, including preserves; and, if the above be facts, what steps His Majesty's Government propose to take to warn the public against the use of these drugs in the preservation of food.

During the course of the war the instructions issued by the Department have on more than one occasion been modified or actually withdrawn in consequence of fuller knowledge and a more complete grasp of the effects of such instructions. In view of the somewhat severe criticism which has been made in the public Press in regard to certain recommendations of the Board of Agriculture in the matter of the preservation of food, I desire to give His Majesty's Government an opportunity of modifying or withdrawing those recommendations should there be occasion to do so, or, on the other hand, of assuring the public that they support the recommendations and that compliance with them will in no way endanger the public health.


My Lords, as most of the points which the noble Earl has raised in his Question are of a somewhat technical character, involving the opinion of chemists, I shall, I think, do him the best service if I read the opinion of our expert chemists on the points which he has brought to the notice of the House.

First with regard to glucose. Glucose has long been used in the manufacture of jam and for other food purposes. Its value as a food is well recognised. It may be home-made or imported. The manufacture in this country is in the hands of a few firms, and samples of their products are systematically taken and tested for arsenic at the Government Laboratory. The samples also include invert sugar prepared from cane sugar with acid. Samples of glucose and brewing sugar are also taken at breweries and examined for arsenic. These samples include glucose manufactured in this country as well as glucose imported. Additional samples of foreign glucose are also occasionally examined on importation. During the last three years over 800 samples from the above sources have been examined in the Government Laboratory, and in no case has arsenic exceeding one-hundredth of a grain per lb. been found to be present. The quantity of one-hundredth grain per lb. was suggested by the Royal Commission on Arsenical Poisoning as the limit below which no action should be taken under the Food and Drugs Acts. Therefore the point raised that there may be danger to the well-being and health of the British public seems to be somewhat dissipated by this statement from an eminent chemist. The manufacturers are aware of the systematic examination of the finished glucose, and, in consequence, exercise great care with regard to freedom from arsenic of the acid used in its manufacture. Much of the imported glucose comes from the United States; and a Committee appointed by the National Academy of Sciences some years ago to ascertain whether there is any danger attending the use of glucose as food reported, among other things, that—

"The processes which it (the manufacture of starch sugar-glucose) employs at the present time are unobjectionable in their character and leave the product uncontaminated; and the starch sugar (glucose) thus made is of exceptional purity and contains no injurious substances."

The Board of Agriculture suggests that inasmuch as glucose is sold by retail tradesmen for the purposes of human food it comes within the provisions of the Sale of Food and Drugs Acts, and is consequently subject to public examination by analysts throughout the country. The public is therefore doubly safeguarded.

I now come to salicylic acid. The leaflet referred to in the noble Earl's Question (Food Production Leaflet No. 4) does not advise the use of salicylic acid for jam-making, but recommends the addition of a little of this substance to the spirit used for sterilisation of the paper covers employed to protect jam from the air. Used in this way salicylic, acid helps in preventing the development of mould on the surface of the pots and the consequent spoiling of the jam. A Committee of the Local Government Board, appointed in 1899 to inquire into the use of preservatives in the preparation of food, took evidence with respect to the use of salicylic acid, particularly in the preservation of wine and jam. In their Report they did not think it necessary to prohibit its use entirely, as in the case of formalin, but suggested that the quantity should be restricted to less than one grain per pint in liquids and one grain per lb. in solids. The quantity recommended in the leaflet for use with the paper covering the pot would certainly not convey anything like one grain per lb. to the jam. Salicylic acid is frequently used to-day for preserving non-alcoholic wines and cordials, and action is not taken under the Food and Drugs Acts unless the quantity exceeds one grain per pint.

The use of coal tar in jam-making is not advocated nor referred to in the leaflet. It is, however, suggested in the leaflet that the artificial sweetening material, saccharine (or saxin), which has been extensively used for many years for sweetening purposes, should be employed in cases in which cane sugar is not obtainable, and where some additional sweetness is required. Before recommending the use of the small quantities of saccharine required for this purpose, inquiry was made into the present state of knowledge concerning the physiological effects of this substance. The result of this inquiry was to show that saccharine, although an intensely sweet, is a peculiarly inert, substance. It is also stated by physiologists that saccharine undergoes no change in the body, and the view is generally accepted that it is not absorbed by the body. Saccharine is a constituent of some of the sugar substitutes used to-day, and, when employed in this way, a much larger quantity is liable to be taken into the system than from jam made according to the leaflet. Such jam would contain in 1½ lbs. about the quantity of saccharine present in one tablet of saxin, of which one or two are frequently employed in sweetening a cup of tea.

The Department has no precise knowledge as to the reasons which have led to the alleged prohibition of the use of saccharine in America and in France. It would appear, however, probable that this prohibition, if it exists, is due to fiscal reasons. The issue of saccharine "under medical directions" does not imply that it is itself harmful; but, on the contrary, that it is useful as a substitute for cane sugar, which, as is well known, is injurious to persons suffering from diabetes and other complaints. I trust that this statement, which the noble Earl will realise has been carefully drawn up by expert chemists, covers all the points which he has brought to the notice of the House.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Duke for the careful way in which he has gone into this matter, and I am sure it will relieve a great many minds to hear that, in the opinion of these eminent chemists, there is really no danger in using these substances. It is, of course, of the greatest importance that they should be used, because we cannot preserve our fruit without some substitute for sugar, as we cannot get sugar in sufficient quantities. I hope that the public, therefore, will accept what the noble Duke has said, and not be afraid of using these substances for the preservation of food.