HL Deb 20 April 1950 vol 166 cc1074-100

5.44 p.m.

LORD HAWKE rose to call attention to the present unsatisfactory quality of flour used for bread-making; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have no personal interest in this Motion which I have put down. There is no Party matter attached to it, and when I put down the Motion I was not aware of the strong feeling that existed at the time among bakers and millers. My approach was purely that of the consumer. Why do I claim that flour to-day is unsatisfactory? It produces a dirty-coloured bread with bad keeping quality; its taste is not good; it is indigestible and it requires adulteration for technical reasons. What is the reason for this? The answer is that the extraction rate is too high. As your Lordships are aware, the extraction rate is that percentage of the wheat seed which is ground into flour. The whole balance goes into animal feeding stuffs, and there is no waste. In the matter of this extraction rate, there is a very ancient controversy. There is a school of thought which says that in order to be properly nourished man should have a very high extraction rate of flour. There is another school of thought which says: Why fill flour with indigestible husks when the nourishing vitamins, and so on, can be obtained in other ways? Probably the truth lies somewhere between the two. If man depends almost entirely on bread for his nourishment, then his bread should be made of flour of a high extraction rate, whereas if he has a more generous diet he can afford to have a lower extraction rate.

To-day, judging from some of the names of noble Lords who are going to speak in this debate, I anticipate that there may be some slight controversy in this matter. I suspect that certain noble Lords may attribute their fine physique, their health, and even, possibly, their longevity, to the particular nature of the bread which they patronise. I suggest that there may be another reason and I quote the words of Lord Horder as published in the Sunday Times in 1945. He said: Take care of the mixed diet and the vitamins will take care of themselves. No truer estimate of the situation has ever been made. It is possible that noble Lords will cite the case of those sprightly ancients of the Balkans who achieve a ripe old age of about 130 on black bread. The answer upon that point is that they eat nothing but bread and therefore they have to have it black. In any case, any person who is tough enough to survive the vicissitudes of life in a Balkan village up to the age of about 70 may well go on to better things. I hope noble Lords who are good democrats at heart will not approach this matter from a totalitarian angle. By all means let the people have access to those particular elixirs which they recommend, but let their methods be those of persuasion and not of totalitaria. Let the people chose their own food.

Before the war we had an extraction rate of about 70 to 72 per cent., producing a white bread which was very acceptable to the people. In the war, it was found that shipping was saved by increasing the extraction rate and importing animal products, bacon and eggs, separately; so in March, 1942, the rate was put up to 85 per cent. In December, 1944, it was reduced to 80 per cent., probably as a result of improved milling technique. In 1945 a strong committee was set up, and they considered the question of the post-war loaf. Lord Horder was a member of that committee. As I read their findings, they were to the effect that the committee recommended that there should be a specification for flour and that the specification they recommended could be produced by an 80 per cent. extraction rate, owing largely to the fact that in the war years there had been great advances in the technique of milling and the 80 per cent. rate was able to attract into the flour elements which previously required a higher rate. They further considered that it was possible that a lower extraction rate would be nutritionally satisfactory provided that it was fortified with the necessary vitamins and so on. The medical members of the committee were not prepared to recommend a fortified flour without having the results of further experience and experiments. I hope that the noble Viscount who is going to reply at the end of the debate will be able to tell us whether there have been such experiments. In May, 1946, the extraction rate was put up to 90 per cent. as the result of a world wheat shortage, and that, of course, had a very unfortunate effect on the animal feeding stuffs position. In September of the same year, however, it was reduced to 85 per cent., and it has remained at that level ever since.

Now a word about adulterants, or rather the chief adulterant. With the higher extraction rate there is more of a certain substance known as phytic acid in the flour, and to set off this phytic acid it is necessary to insert in the bread some chalk-like substance. We are assured that this is harmless to human beings, but there are many people who suffer from diseases which take the form of a deposit of chalk in various parts of their anatomy, and in spite of the assurances of science they do not view with any great delight the presence of chalk in their bread. It is further thought that salt is going to be iodised. Salt is an important ingredient of bread, and people who happen to be allergic to iodine will have this further disquiet in their minds, notwithstanding the assurance of medical science. At any rate, the result of this high extraction rate is an unsatisfactory flour, and I suggest that the time has arisen when we ought to revert to an 80 per cent. extraction rate and, indeed, should consider a lower rate in the light of any experiments that have taken place in regard to fortification.

What advantages should we get from a reduction in the extraction rate? We should get a better colour, a better keeping power, a better taste, a greater digestibility, and a lighter, bulkier loaf; and we should have less of this chalk added. We should be coming nearer to what the general public have been accustomed to and like. What stands in the way? I believe the only thing that stands in the way is dollars, Canada being our residual source of wheat. Let us consider for a moment whether quite so many dollars as one might imagine are involved. The provision of the same weight of flour at the lower extraction rate, I suggest, would require about 900 tons of wheat more a day. In a year that would cost us in the neighbourhood of £9,000,000 worth of Canadian dollars. But are we sure that the same weight of flour would be required? If the same weight were required, we should need these extra dollars but we should be able to compensate for that by getting an extra 900 tons a day of animal feeding stuffs.

But, as I say, our loaf would be bulkier and the same number of slices would weigh less. And since only about half the wheat removed by that extra 5 per cent. extraction is digested by the human interior the 80 per cent. loaf would have more calories a pound. If everybody ate the same number of slices as before, or sought only the same nourishment as before, we should not require anything like the full extra quantity of 900 tons, but only something between 400 and 500 tons, representing £4,000,000 to £5,000,000 worth of Canadian dollars a year. But do we want even that? Our pre-war consumption of flour was in the neighbourhood of 80,000 tons a week. Nowadays, it has been running in the neighbourhood of 100,000 tons a week. Of course, we have a slightly larger population, and we have a slightly smaller choice of protein foods, but I am convinced that a great deal of this extra bread goes into the dustbin. Everybody knows that there is a tremendous waste of bread going on all the time, largely because the present loaf is a bad keeping loaf. I suggest that if more effort were made to bring this matter home to the people we might well save those extra dollars. I have seen posters all over the country with all sorts of slogans, relevant and irrelevant, but I have never seen one saying "Bread costs dollars. Don't waste it." The answer to the question, "How many extra dollars should we need?" is that nobody knows. Marshall Aid has been given to us to allow us room to manœuvre. The dollar crisis is not with us to-day; it will come in 1952. This Aid is to enable us to manœuvre so that we can find out the most economic methods of spending dollars. Between now and 1952 we have the time and opportunity for experiment.

Here is another argument. To-day the rôle of Joseph is a dual one. The supply of wheat is arranged by international agreement between the producing countries and the consuming countries. It is the business of the producers to store their surpluses. We are the largest importer, and it is to our interest to keep our claim on the pool as large as possible in case there is a shortage. In 1946 Mr. Strachey rather relinquished our position. If he has not sold the pass, I think our advantage to-day lies in making the biggest claim we possibly can on the pool while wheat is in comparatively plentiful supply. It is like the wise business man who in good time exercises his overdraft facilities so that they will still be there when times become bad. In my humble opinion, the purchase of coarse grains in the world market is going to be difficult. It will be difficult to persuade people to grow them to export regularly. Would it not be to our advantage to make a habit of buying up as much as possible for animal feeding, along with our human bread grains? Then, when times get bad and the needs of humans are paramount, we may sill continue to get our animal feeding stuffs; whereas, if we did not do it that way, when it became difficult to buy coarse grains our animals would suffer.

At the moment, we are spending dollars on wheat and we are not getting the best value for our money. We are not using the wheat to the best advantage. A certain percentage is being fed to human beings who cannot digest it, whereas that same proportion fed to animals would be satisfactory to them. An 80 per cent. extraction rate would use this wheat to better advantage. It would produce a better loaf and a sufficient number of vitamins to meet the requirements laid down by the Committee that sat in 1945. Those who do not like a lower extraction rate, some 10 per cent. of the population, can always buy brown bread in the shops, or do without. The 90 per cent. who want the whitest possible loaf would be able to buy what they always liked. And farmers would benefit by the additional animal feeding stuffs. The only stumbling block I can see is the question of dollars—and that is quite an unknown factor. The advantages seem to me so obvious that I suggest the time has arrived when we ought to take a little risk and see. We should give the consumer the better loaf for which he has asked for so many years. I beg to move for Papers.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, for raising a subject of great importance, and raising it in such a thoughtful and constructive manner. It is obvious that any proposal put before Parliament for an increase of dollar expenditure has to be examined carefully. I am sure we should all agree that the noble Lord, in stating his case, has done so with great moderation and attention to the difficulties. There are a number of your Lordships who desire to speak, and it seems to me it would be better for those of us who are venturing to address your Lordships to restrict ourselves to the particular points on which we feel we have the best contribution to make. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do not roam over the whole subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, will deal with the question of dollars, and the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has already dealt with the medical and nutritional side. I should like for a moment to deal with the matter from the point of view of what the farmer could contribute to the food supplies of this country if the step the noble Lord has proposed were taken. Before doing so, I would make this one point. What the noble Lord has said about the bad keeping quality of bread throws some light on a point that has been worrying me for some time. Ever since I started farming—I was going to say some twenty years ago, but I am afraid we are all getting older—some thirty years ago, I have had a fairly considerable number of pigs. Up to quite recently we have, as many pig breeders are doing, been making great use of swill from the towns, both processed and otherwise. It has always puzzled me why there was such a tremendous amount of bread in that swill. Are we sure that one of the reasons is not that the bread that we are having to-day is of such had keeping quality that inevitably a large proportion of it gets wasted and thrown away?

In speaking on this question from the farmers' point of view, let me make it clear that the farming community are not asking for anything to be done on this subject. They are anxious to be dollar savers, not dollar users. It is true that if something is done it will ease their task. Therefore, I want to speak to your Lordships, not in the form of making a plea on behalf of the farmer but of informing you of the contribution the farming community feels that it could make if it were given a larger supply of offals. Your Lordships will agree that this matter is of immense importance from every point of view. After all, the greatest shortage in the feeding of the nation to-day is in the proteins that are derived from such products as meat and eggs. Perhaps I may mention something even more important than proteins—namely, the palatability and interest of the diet that the people of this country do or do not enjoy at present. I see in the House to-day noble Lords of the medical fraternity, and I believe they will agree with me that food is not only a matter of proteins and calories but that a great deal of importance is to be attached to the interest and variety of the diet.

If you take one ton of offals—middlings, bran and so on—you can assume that something like three to three and a half hundredweight of bacon can be produced from it, or 240 dozen eggs. I need not stress to your Lordships that those are theoretical figures, in the sense that no one in his right senses ever feeds a pure ration to an animal—it is always mixed. But in this case that strengthens the point I am going to make, because the merit of having these extra offals is not merely that it gives us an extra quantity of feeding stuffs but it enables us, by its consistency and by its protein content, which is double what is in whole grain, to make better use of those other feeding stuffs that we are already feeding to our pigs and chickens. Therefore, it enables us to make a more efficient use (the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, is here, and I know that he will agree with me) of the rest of the diet by getting a properly balanced ration. But it has more value than that. Farmers are frequently lectured on the desirability of producing and marketing their products in a better state. There is no question that with this more efficient ration it would be possible to produce a very much better quality of bacon, and something more palatable to the people, as compared with the foreign bacon which we are now importing.

There is the further point of price. At the present moment the price of maize meal—a low-protein food—is in the neighbourhood of £26 to £27 a ton. Wheat offals, which contain double the protein can be bought for approximately £19 a ton. That should definitely lead to the possibility of some price reduction in what is produced at home. Incidentally, are we really so sure of our supplies of maize? Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, can tell us something of the position with regard to the Argentine crop. After all, Argentine is one of our main sources for the supply of maize. My information is that it is doubtful whether we shall receive any appreciable amount of maize from the Argentine this year.

I have ventured to give your Lordships a figure based on what can be produced from one ton of offals. One would like to apply that to the national picture, but it is difficult to do so, since there are so many variable factors. For instance, there is one factor about which we have only a limited amount of information—namely, the proportion of our cereals that we are importing to-day in the form of grain and the proportion in the form of flour. Up to a couple of years ago the tendency undoubtedly was to import more and more of our cereals in the form of flour instead of grain, leaving behind the offals. Now, I am glad to say, the tendency is the other way. But if we assume for a moment a return to the pre-war situation—it is only an assumption, but it helps to present a picture—then we can say that we might, on a 72 per cent. extraction rate, produce 166,000 tons more bacon per year, or 238,000,000 dozen eggs. In order to give your Lordships some idea what that means, I can tell you that it means virtually doubling the present ration of bacon or eggs. Of course, we cannot claim that anything the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, is suggesting is likely to have that effect, because he is not asking for a return to 72 per cent. He is asking for a return to 80 per cent. from 85 per cent., which is only just over one-third of a return to pre-war.

There are other circumstances which are also different, and therefore if we returned to an 80 per cent. extraction it would give us something between a 25 and 30 per cent. improvement in our ration of bacon or eggs. I am giving these figures in terms of bacon and eggs, because at the moment we are not worrying so much about the production of milk. The actual figures to-day of possible increased production of bacon or eggs arising from the request which is being made by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, should be in the neighbourhood of 60,000 tons of pig-meat or 80,000,000 dozen eggs. When we mention eggs, we should realise that we are not making the most of our case, because the laying life of the hen does not go on for ever, and then it becomes a bird fit for slaughter and to eat. My calculations are not taking that into account. Purely on my own figures I work it out that it amounts to rations for 10,000,000 or 12,000,000 people, either of bacon or of eggs, for a whole year at the present rate.

I think your Lordships will agree that this is an important consideration. After all, our pig population is still very heavily down. We had about 4,500,000 pigs before the war, and we have well under 3,000,000 to-day. There is no question that certainly the quickest way of increasing our meat and fat ration would be by increasing our pig population. There is another advantage. I should certainly hope to see any increase in feeding stuffs rations allocated with in even greater degree of favouritism than it is to-day to the small farmer. Before the war, the economy of countless small farms in this country was based on cows which the husband managed, and pigs and chickens which his wife and children managed. There is a great deal of under-employment on these farms because there is not sufficient for the women and children to do without pigs and chickens to look after. Therefore, a special allocation of feeding stuffs to the small farms would lead to a considerable increase of food for the country without any call on manpower whatsoever.

Surely these are factors for the Government to weigh. I know that there are points of great importance that they can advance on the other side. They can argue, for instance, that our supplies of coarse grain from both Argentine and Russia—our two main suppliers—are in rather doubtful hands. They can say that at any time America and Canada might have a drought, and that that would revolutionise the whole feeding stuff position; that we should have done something unwise in building up our livestock population too high, since we are dependent upon these admittedly insecure sources of food. I know that can be argued, and personally I feel that factors such as these must be borne in mind. Finally, I say this to the noble Viscount who is to reply. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has put before us a very moderate demand, but to all noble Lords in the House there must seem to be an extremely strong case on health grounds, on nutritional grounds and on grounds of food production. I think the figures which other noble Lords are going to produce, even on the doubtfulness of some of the dollar arguments, call for an undertaking from the Government that they will re-examine the whole question. I do not think we can ask the noble Viscount to give us a definite reply to-day. I am quite sure that he will not. Personally, however, I should be satisfied—and I think many other noble Lords would be satisfied—if the noble Viscount would say that in the light of new conditions the Government are prepared to re-examine the whole position and see whether they cannot now make this very small concession for which the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, is asking.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, I have seen the courtesy which prevails in this House, and especially is this courtesy displayed towards one speaking for the first time. I therefore claim your kind indulgence to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has called attention to the present unsatisfactory quality of flour used for bread-making, and I hope that it may not be out of order or inopportune to make a few remarks as to the quality of flour that is now used in biscuit-making. Incidentally, it may be of interest to your Lordships to know—although I expect many of you are aware of it—that whereas the flour which is used in bread-making is milled from hard wheat, the flour that is most suitable and is used in biscuit-making is milled from soft wheat. That is done for this reason. The large majority of the flour which is used in biscuit-making is milled from home-grown wheat and, except for certain specialities, very little imported flour is used.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has said, the question of the rate of flour extraction is of great importance to the bread-making industry, and I submit that it is equally important to the biscuit-making industry, although of course the amount of flour used in biscuit-making is infinitesimal compared to that used for bread. But bread and biscuits can, I think, be regarded as alternative diets; and while pleading for an improvement in the palatability and attractiveness of bread, I hold that a similar case can be made out for biscuits. In addition, biscuits have to bear a longer shelf life than any other baked product, and for this reason the ingredients selected for biscuit-making have to be very carefully selected—and that, of course, applies more to flour than to anything else, since it is the principal biscuit-making ingredient. I therefore endorse all that the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has said about the unsatisfactory quality of the flour that we are using to-day in biscuit-making. Biscuits occupy a not insignificant position in view of the importance of the export trade; and it is notable that, for the overseas trade, the Ministry of Food provide us with flour of 72 per cent. extraction—because, of course, with an 85 per cent. extraction it would be impossible to compete with biscuits made overseas of a 72 per cent. extraction. The reason is not far to seek, if the attractiveness of the flavours of the two products are compared.

In the few comments which I have to make about this 85 per cent. extraction flour I shall confine myself to quoting facts indicating why, owing to the large amount of wheat offal contained therein, it is so unsatisfactory for biscuit-making. The Ministry of Food are aware of all these facts, but we are not certain that they still realise the adverse effects which accrue from using this flour. Flour of an 85 per cent. extraction deteriorates in storage; the baking behaviour is erratic; and there is an irregularity of product, and wastage, as your Lordships can well imagine. Therefore, from the point of view of the manufacturer this flour is very unsatisfactory. From the point of view of the consumer it is equally unsatisfactory, because, as I have said, the biscuit deteriorates in storage and acquires a musty flavour which is accentuated as the life of the biscuit goes on. Moreover, it naturally shortens the shelf life of the biscuit. Therefore, from our point of view, it is thoroughly unsatisfactory. One of the great merits of biscuits, of course, is their food value, but owing to this 85 per cent. extraction flour their shelf life is largely impoverished. I need not add to these examples to show that this high-extraction flour is unsuitable material for the manufacture of high-class biscuits.

I want to make one final point. To have two flours of a different extraction in a factory creates enormous difficulty. It means that there is a change-over every time from the home to the overseas product, and that means processes which are uneconomical. It is common knowledge that the meticulous standard of purity required in goods intended for the United States calls for a particularly hygienic standard of flour and other ingredients. We get this improved hygienic standard of flour but it is a fact that when goods for the home market have been made on a machine, very great precautions have to be taken in order to clean that machine so thoroughly that goods made for the United States can pass the high standard required. If these precautions were not taken, there would not be a hope of producing the high standard of goods required for the United States. As I have said, the Ministry of Food are aware of these things, and we now have an appeal before them to permit us to use 72 per cent. extraction flour all round. Only thus can a more attractive and better-keeping article be produced, and the many difficulties of wastage overcome. I have great pleasure in supporting what the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has said.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure I voice your view when I offer congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for the contribution he has made to this debate in his first address in your Lordships' House. I may add the hope—which, again, I feel sure your Lordships will share—that we shall benefit in the future from the expert experience that the noble Lord has had in his business career. We are all grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, for his moderation in language and in tone and for the light vein which ran through his speech. I think it was my friend and colleague Sir Jack Drummond who commented once upon the sad fact that: There is something … about food and especially about bread … that seems to arouse the worst traits in those who become interested in putting their views before the public. In few other controversies has there been more bias, prejudice and ignorance reflected in public statements. It is scarcely surprising that the man in street is heartily sick of the whole business. I have always tried to approach this subject in as unbiased and objective a manner as possible.

My own view about the matter which we are discussing to-day is a very simple one. I have expressed it more than once. In my estimation, there should be made easily available for every citizen the best bread that modern milling and baking can produce. What do I mean by the "best bread"? I mean a bread that contains a maximum amount of essential nutrients compatible with acceptability in respect of taste, colour, texture and digestibility. As to digestibility, my noble friend Lord Webb-Johnson was remaining here in order to try to convince any of your Lordships who might be in a state of doubt that he has never met a case of intestinal obstruction arising from eating bread, of however high an extraction. We went into this matter during the war, and came to the conclusion that, provided a patient could eat bread at all, he could eat and digest the national loaf—that is, the 85 per cent. extraction loaf—equally as well as the pre-war loaf. I hold no brief for the person who has "views," "ideas" or "prejudices." There are some people who have an afflatus which enables them to eat anything. As the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, says, with very little logic in their argument they attribute their state of good health or longevity—and as to the former, one finds sometimes that they are not so fit as they think they are—to the bread they eat.

As I say, I hold no brief for the person whose soul rather than body is what determines the bread that he eats or likes, but this question of acceptability is an important one. It has been touched upon more than once to-day. It is important for two reasons. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, touched upon both reasons. The first reason is that, if bread is acceptable, you digest it better and you eat more of it. That is a point to which I shall return in a moment. The second reason for the importance of bread being acceptable (I am using that word in the psychological sense) is that less of it is wasted. The chief reason for wasting bread is that the person who throws it into the noble Earl's pig-swill does not like it. Therefore, any quality in the loaf which induces the nation as a whole to eat more bread, provided this quality is not attained at the sacrifice of essential nutrients, is to be encouraged.

The idea that bread is just a starchy food is a fallacy. Bread is a very good and very cheap source of protein as well as of other essential nutrients. It is, and it deserves to be, the "staff of life." There are millions of people in this country who depend on it as their main source of nutrition. In an earlier debate even than the last debate—the last debate on this matter was in October, 1945, but there was an earlier debate on February 28, 1945–I pleaded that there should be a specification in regard to what was called the "national loaf," so that the public might know what it was eating and why—by which I mean so that it could be assured that the nutritional value of the loaf was adequate. This idea of a specification was acted upon. Reference has already been made to the inter-Departmental Committee set up by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who was then Minister of Food. The Committee was chaired by Sir Henry French. The object of the conference was to assist the Departments concerned—Health, Food, Supply and, I think, one or two other Departments—in advising Ministers concerned as to any regulations which might be made when war control ceased. The main conclusion which we reached at that conference was that regulations should provide that flour contained minima amounts of three "token" nutrients—namely vitamin B1, nicotinic acid and iron. These were taken as the "token" nutrients because they could be assayed (that is, analysed), and therefore a definite specification as to the nutritional value of any bread, whatever its extraction, could be determined.

The conference dealt with other matters, such as the relative value of a low extraction rate with enrichment as against a high extraction rate without enrichment. I think the noble Lord commented on that and said that no decision was arrived at. That is correct: no decision was arrived at. The conclusion that no decision could be arrived at was very wise, because knowledge of those matters at that time was inadequate to justify a decision. That point is important in relation to the plea I am going to make presently—namely, that this conference should be convened again so that we may pool the knowledge that has accumulated in the meantime. It is so important that I will crave your Lordships' permission to read a paragraph from the Report which was presented by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, to Parliament in November, 1945. It reads as follows: The advantage of natural over reinforced foods is something about which most nutritionists in the United Kingdom are agreed. The high standard of health which has been maintained in this country throughout the war, as already indicated, is believed to be attributable at least in part to this policy and to the consumption of high-extraction flour in which the vitamins necessary for adequate nutrition have been retained. It has yet to be shown that flour reinforced with added vitamins would produce equally good results.


My Lords, may I interrupt for a moment? I am quite in agreement with that. I only want to say that I did not actually present the Report to Parliament—it was presented by my successor—because the conference did not report whilst I was still Minister of Food.


My Lords, I should like to give the credit to the man who originated the conference rather than to the man who presented the Report. The level of extraction recommended by the conference was 80 per cent., which was the level of extraction actually in existence at the time of its deliberations. But no step was taken to initiate policy on the lines of the committee's recommendations because, as your Lordships will remember, not only were the times not ripe for such a policy, but the world food condition became worsened to such an extent that the then extraction rate of 80 per cent. went up to 85 per cent.—and even, for a short time, to 90 per. cent. Shipping space was much restricted by the destruction of shipping and was badly required for other purposes. But now the point arises: Why should not we in this country implement the recommendations of that committee and pass from 85 per cent. to 80 per cent., a level which gives a more acceptable loaf and adequate nutritional value? I know nothing about the economic factors, and I must dissociate myself from that part of the question, although I realise that it is an extremely important factor, but, speaking as I can only speak, from the angle of a nutritionist, in my judgment it is very desirable that this change should be made.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to utter a warning against attaching too rigid a significance to this question of the extraction rate of flour when assessing the nutritive value of bread. The Post-War Conference urged that further research should be undertaken in certain directions. Professor McCance and Doctor Widdowson, who had already made several important investigations in the field of nutrition, have recently undertaken tests on behalf of the Medical Research Council with a large number of German schoolchildren, and with somewhat surprising, results. Lest anyone hastily concludes that these experiments were performed on German children because they could not be performed on English children, I would make two comments: first that the conditions under which the German children were living were highly adaptable to an experiment of this sort; and the second, the German children were very much better after the experiment than they were before.

The tests, which extended over some months, were of this character. One group of children were fed with bread of 100 per cent. extraction; another group with bread of 85 per cent. extraction—the extraction of the loaf we are eating to-day; a third group on pre-war white flour, 72 per cent., enriched with vitamins; and finally a group of children were fed on pre-war white bread, 72 per cent., without enrichment. Each child had as much bread of its particular type as it wished, and at the same time had its normal ration, which was very meagre—to wit, 2 ounces of cheese, 1½ ounces of fish, 2 ounces of fats, and from one-half to one pint of milk per week, according to the supply. When the experiment began the children were all about a year behind American children in weight, and one year and four months behind in height. After nine months the children had about caught up to the American standards.

We now come to the extraordinary and unexpected result, as expressed in Dr. Widdowson's own words: There was no difference whatever between the five groups … the children on unenriched white bread did as well as the others. But, my Lords, scientific experiments and research have to be watched very carefully. One must not take an experiment out of the conditions in which it is made, otherwise one's interpretation may be highly fallacious. Professor McCance and Doctor Widdowson, well aware of this possible fallacy, have definitely stated that the results apply only to the conditions in which the experiment took place. I quote these experiments to show what we already knew before—namely, that we are only on the threshold of this important science of nutrition. But our knowledge grows, and it is time that we re-surveyed this important matter of the bread of our people. I hope, therefore, that in replying on behalf of the Government the noble Viscount will be able to give us an assurance that the Post-War Conference will be convened again—and soon, I hope, also, that a full report on this important work by these British researchers (and, by the way, up till now there has been only incidental reference to these experiments in the Report of the Medical Research Council, under whose auspices the work was undertaken) will be placed before this Conference when it is convened again.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I am an exhibit of the type of 100 per cent. loaf. I will deal with that a little later, but I should like to say first that I heartily agree with Lord Hawke when he says that the present loaf is abominable. With regard to colour, surely we cannot bother very much about the colour of our food. It is pleasant to have it looking pretty, but there is plenty of good food which one cannot describe as being pretty. Let us take gingerbread cake. That is not pretty to look at, yet it is very good. I do not pay much attention to colour. My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend Lord Horder has referred to the coming report. I am anxious to get the report on milling, and to see the results of the research that has now been going on for many years. Lord Horder referred to the debate which was initiated by myself in this House in February, 1945, and to the debate initiated by Lord Hankey in October of the same year. We have been waiting a long time to get this scientific report. I should like to hear from Lord Horder whether he would say definitely that what I will call natural vitamins are far better than synthetic vitamins. Perhaps he will say whether in his opinion they are one and the same thing.


We have no evidence by which I can say "Yes" or "No" to that question.


I see. Yet I think that that is very important. We have very great authorities who will say that it is not so much a question of what we do not know with regard to this matter as of what we do know definitely. Reinforcing or adding by synthetic means to a natural product, like the result of grinding wheat berry, seems to me to be an important subject that should be carefully studied, because, being rather a "crank" on the subject of nature, and nature's food being the one thing that produces health in us all, I cannot believe that synthetic food or any percentage of it is good for us in any shape or form.

My noble friend Lord Hawke referred to the fact that in high extractions there was a certain amount of phytic acid. My opinion with regard to that matter is that it is only an infinitesimal amount, and will not affect anybody. I agree with the noble Lord about the keeping of bread at present. It is just appalling, and it does not keep. But if he will allow me to present him with one of the loaves which I eat which are made at my home out of 100 per cent. extraction rate flour, he will find a great difference. Only yesterday morning, for breakfast, I finished off a loaf which was over a week old. It was excellent. I have no doubt that Lord Hankey, when he speaks, will be able to corroborate what I say in this connection. If I put my 100 per cent. extraction rate loaf into a tin for one night with a loaf such as the ordinary consumer eats, my bread is mouldy in the morning. There must be something bad about the other bread that it should have such an effect on the splendid bread I eat. My loaf is just rotten in the morning through contact with it—through sleeping with it as you might say.

Before going further, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, on his most instructive and excellent speech. I certainly hope that we shall hear him again in our debates. What he said was most informative. But I should like to ask him this question. It arises really out of a remark which Lord Hawke made to me in private conversation. He said, in effect, that eating whole-meal bread as I did. I would get a scratching effect and would consume a lot of roughage. To that I say it is simply a question of how finely the wheat is ground. My wheat is ground very finely indeed—just as fine as the wheat which is made into any white flour—therefore there is no roughage about it. I wonder if Lord Palmer can tell me whether the wheat he uses for biscuit-making is as finely ground as the wheat which is ground for white flour?


In the home trade we use exactly the same flour as that which Lord Hawke has for his bread—it is, I think, of 85 per cent. extraction rate. For overseas purposes flour of 72 per cent. extraction rate is employed—that is the pre-war rate.


What I am trying to get at is whether the fine grinding of flour is or is not very material to biscuit-making. I imagine that it would be.


I should imagine that it would be.


May I ask whether the wheat which Lord Teviot uses has to be hand-sown, and hand-reaped as well?


Oh, no; you buy any sack of wheat you like and you get it stone-ground as fine as it can be ground. That is just as fine as white flour. It can be stored for substantial periods, as people who use it to the benefit of their health well know, for its keeping propensities are very great. For years what I have done is this: I get one stone of it periodically from the same place and make the bread at home. The flour and the bread alike keep excellently. What Lord Horder has said with regard to the German children was most interesting. I gather that these children develop well, but a question arises in my mind as to whether their case may not be rather like that of people who take to the bottle, and who find that it does not affect them for a while, but later on there are certain legacies. I cannot help wondering whether the children who eat this starch, this 70 to 72 per cent. extraction rate product, while they may seem to develop well for a time and may look equal to those who have eaten higher extraction rate bread, will not find that there are some legacies which will affect them later on.

Probably in regard to the health of our people this is the most important debate we have had in this House for a long time. After all, bread is vital; it is the most universal food that the people can have. It is of the utmost importance that we should get it right and that we should get it so that the people will eat it. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, is, I think, a little anxious lest I, like some other cranks—one is always called a crank if one has any strong feeling about anything—should urge that everyone should eat the sort of bread which I eat. I do not want that at all. I want everyone who wishes to eat starch—that is, bread of 72 per cent. extraction rate—by all means to do so. I cannot eat it myself, because it gives me frightful indigestion. Eating my 100 per cent. extraction rate bread, as I do, I am very fit and well, and I do not suffer from indigestion. We have to recognise that what is one man's meat is another man's poison, and we must take a broad view. I am all for people having the bread they want. But I find—and no doubt other noble Lords who like high extraction bread have had the same experience—that what is called brown bread is in some cases unsatisfactory from our point of view. I do not know what makes it brown, but certainly, in some instances, there is no high extraction about it.

If I go into one or other of the big towns in which some of your Lordships live, I always rise early and call on the baker to see whether I can get some brown wholemeal bread. If I do not get to the shop early, I usually find that every bit of it has gone. I have often heard it said that there is not enough of that kind of bread available, and I want to encourage the baking of that particular bread. I brought up this subject in your Lordships' House in 1945. We have now, and quite properly, children's meals provided in schools. I should like to see that children are fed high-extraction rate bread, and for this reason. Some of your Lordships may not be aware of it, but I sat for two years as chairman of an inter-departmental committee which considered questions relating to the condition of the teeth of the people of our country and to dentistry generally. The evidence of the dentists was that high extraction rate bread was very beneficial to teeth. I am certain that they were giving the result of their experience. The hour is late, but I wish we had much more time to debate this question, for it is of great importance.

I should like to say something on the question of iron. If your Lordships who, were present at the time will cast your minds back, you will recollect that Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who was Chairman of the Medical Research Council, spoke in the debate in February, 1945. He said that he had some information on the highest authority—he did not mention the name of his informant but I think some of us can well imagine who he was. This is what Lord Balfour of Burleigh said: My informant, who is one of the greatest authorities on nutrition in the country says: 'I guess—because this is not yet a scientifically established fact—that it is the difference between 82½ per cent. and 80 per cent. In the 80 per cent. extracted flour—that is the flour at present eaten—there is probably 40 per cent. less iron than in the 85 per cent. extracted flour. I am not allocating the 40 per cent. between the 82½ per cent and 80 per cent., but between the 85 and the 80 per cent.' My correspondent goes on to say: 'I expect an increase in anaemia to result from the reduction to 80 per cent., and I am confident that if the reduction goes on down to the prewar 70 or 72 per cent., there will be a great increase in anaemia. That comes from a very high authority and one is bound to pay attention to it. Certainly, it shows the tremendous importance or this question.

Then we have other great authorities who say that, to a large extent, duodenal ulcers and so on are often caused by this low extraction bread. I remember that Lord Horder, when he spoke in the debate to which I am referring—I will not quote his words, it would take too long—said that there was no doubt whatever that even if a patient had duodenal ulcers he was more likely to digest 85 per cent. high extraction bread, and it would be better for him than the lower extraction bread. If we look at what has been happening in the last few years, we see the danger in our present bread. Professor Mellanby discovered the presence of agene in bread. The Americans immediately cut it out of their bread, and we did likewise. But there it was; year after year we had been eating bread in which there was this definite poison. We must do what we can to improve the health of the people, which does not appear to be so very good. Your Lordships and I go about the country and see people looking thoroughly badly nourished—not under-nourished, but suffering from malnutrition. There are any number of people waiting to get into hospital and we are always hearing of people with duodenal ulcers. It is mainly owing to malnutrition that a great many people suffer from that disease. Perhaps your Lordships know of Professor Hancock, who was a sort of "super-vet." of this country. He raised this question of agene in bread a year and more ago, and proved definitely that hysteria in dogs was due to feeding them on our present-day bread. He believed that this was due entirely to the agene in the bread. I think all this is evidence that there is danger, and we should take this matter very seriously and make a thorough research into the whole question of extraction and the making of bread.

It is appalling, when one goes into an hotel lobby, to see the number of slot machines with capsules for this and capsules for that—Macleans stomach powders and so on. Surely, we ought to get away from that. People ought not to have to take these things to be healthy and well. If only we could do something about this, I am sure we should make the whole nation happier. I do not know whether the noble Viscount who is to reply has any information about the question raised by my noble friend Lord De La Warr, but I should have thought that there was ample wheat to enable us to have a flour of not less than 85 per cent. extraction. During the war there were conditions of shortage of shipping space which prevented us from getting sufficient wheat, but that is not so now. We ought to do everything we can to get the whole grain into this country.

There is further evidence from Professor Davidson of Edinburgh, whom we know so well by name. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Horder, he has said that ulceration could be healed more quickly on high-extraction bread than on anything under 75 per cent. I have always felt that not nearly enough preventive research has been made into the question of food. Everybody is out to cure. Let us try to do what we can to prevent ourselves from becoming ill. In a speech I made in your Lordships' House some years ago, I instanced the extraordinary amount of money spent, both in America and in this country, on research to cure, and the small amount spent on how to prevent. I hope that we can do something in the direction of preventing ill-health. We are up against a tough proposition in the high-percentage extraction. If we were all in the milling trade, we should all be millionaires. We should have the 70 to 72 per cent. flour, and over and above that we should dispose of the other 28 per cent. as Bemax, bran, wheat flakes, and foods of that sort, which are very expensive.

I do not hold with this plea about animals. I cannot agree to interfering with the nutrition of the people in order to feed animals. I do not care what the excuse may be. We must put the human being first, even if we do not get so much bacon and eggs as we used to. I do not know what other people feed their pigs on, but I feed my pigs on barley meal, not on wheat or anything to do with wheat. Once we begin to tinker with the natural wheat berry, there is bound to be great danger. As Professor Drummond has said, there are so many elements about which we know nothing that once we begin to tinker with the whole berry, we upset the general equilibrium of the composition of wheat as a nutrient, and that, in my view, is not what nature intended. On no account should chemical improvisers of yeast be used. I thank my noble friend, Lord Hawke, for bringing this question before the House, and I end with the plea that bread will not be reduced below 85 per cent. extraction rate.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, in his moderate, well-argued and amusing speech, the noble Lord who moved this Motion "got me one in the midriff." He took the wind out of me badly. I had expected him to make a demand for 70 per cent. extraction and I came here with a mass of thunder, with bombs of every kind, to knock out that case. But what does the noble Lord do? He proposes a reduction to only 80 per cent. I was prepared to argue in favour of raising the rate of extraction to 85 per cent., but I had not expected to learn when I came to this House (I am out of the country a good deal nowadays) that bread was already made of flour of 85 per cent. extraction. Nothing has pleased me more for years. That is exactly what we want. It is true that 85 per cent. is not like the 90 to 100 per cent. that I eat myself. If I ate bread made of flour of 85 per cent. extraction I should have to use some of these things mentioned by my noble friend Lord Teviot just now—the brans, and so on. I have to go abroad a great deal, and I always take with me stocks of these brans to make up as best I can for the extremely white bread that I sometimes have to eat. The strange thing is that the people of the country say to me: "How do you keep so fit in these climates?" That has happened not one year but two years. My answer is: "Because I get something near the equivalent of 90 per cent. extraction bread, instead of your white stuff."

We are told that the reason for the 85 per cent. extraction is dollars, and I have no doubt that that is correct. It is a curious thing, but these advances always seem to come from economic causes. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, when he introduced the 85 per cent. bread was insistent that the reason for it was an economic one—transport, I think it was then, and not dollars. Now we are told that the reason for the 85 per cent. is dollars. The noble Lord, Lord Horder, and I congratulated Lord Woolton on having struck a great blew for health; and I ventured to say then that I thought we should never regret it. I have never regretted it, because from 1942 to 1945 the people of this country were fed upon this 85 per cent. extraction bread, and I think the health was well maintained. Here I take issue a little with my noble friend Lord Teviot. I believe on the whole that the health of the people is reasonably good.

I am fortified in this by the latest report on these matters, a report which Lord Herder sent to me of a committee of the British Medical Association which has been sitting under his chairmanship for two years. I notice they say this: … having regard to all the facts and data which have been before the committee it would appear to be a fair conclusion that the health of the population as a whole, despite the trials and tribulations of recent years, has been well maintained. The committee do not try and assess exactly how much that is due to the food control methods, but they do say (speaking of the food control system): Certain details of that system must themselves have done much to improve the general standard of nutrition. Among the causes of the comparatively good health we have had which they mention are the national milk scheme, the milk in schools scheme, the vitamin scheme"— and please note this my Lords— the raising of the extraction rate of bread and its fortification with calcium"— which some people do not like— the fortification of margarine with vitamins A and D, the impetus given to the consumption of potatoes and vegetables, the whole system of price control. Most of these things, except the last, I have been advocating and pressing for a great many years.

There is one matter which I particularly want to bring to the attention of your Lordships (so far it has not been mentioned to-day)—namely, that in the debate on October 24, 1945, the following Resolution was agreed to without a Division: That the health of the population should be the guiding principle to govern the nutritional policy of the Government, and that in applying that principle to the case of bread the health of the consumer should be the primary factor, and milling and other interests should be developed in harmony with this policy. That is the main issue. A good many objections have been raised, and most of them have been answered by the noble Lords, Lord Horder and Lord Teviot. But in this matter of health it would seem that an 85 per cent. extraction is definitely better than 80 per cent. The evidence I cite on that is taken from the report, to which Lord Horder has already referred, of the conference of 1945. The 80 per cent. rate recommended by that conference was based on an estimate by an expert sub-committee, not of the optimum desiderata but of the minimum requirements of four ingredients selected as essential to health. Of those four ingredients one, riboflavin, was dropped for the simple reason that it was impossible to obtain it by milling below 85 per cent. The balance of nature, to which my noble friend Lord Teviot drew so much attention, was upset, and people were left to get their riboflavin from milk and meat—which latter gets scarcer every day. Even in the case of the other three ingredients—namely, vitamin B, nicotinic acid and iron—the Report, after giving the figures for the minimum percentage of each required to maintain health, stated that these minima can be supplied by the present flour of 80 per cent. extraction. Please note the word "can," my Lords. But, as Lord Horder observed in the debate on the subject: It can do so, but it may not. Or, as a miller informed me, at 80 per cent. the miller is in a position to choose whether he should please the baker, his voluntary customer, by milling for baking quality, or whether he should please the scientific expert by milling for dietetic merit. It also transpired from the debate that the so-called 80 per cent. flour did not make 80 per cent. bread at all, because it was mixed with varying proportions of imported flour, as I think it had to be, so that the net result was 78 per cent. or 79 per cent. If I remember aright, I obtained those figures in answer to a Parliamentary Question. With all those defects, the so-called 80 per cent. loaf was obviously rather a feeble and unreliable staff of life, though it was very much better than the 70 per cent. to 73 per cent. loaf of pre-war days.


The noble Lord will agree that equally the 85 per cent. loaf has put into it the other flour which is bought in Canada.


Yes, that was perfectly true, and I presume it is true to-day, although I do not know. I should like to be informed about that. I wish to support what the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said about agene in bread, and I should greatly like to know what is the present position. It seems extraordinary that this scandal should be going on under the very noses of the Ministry of Food, and that it was only when Sir Edward Mellanby made these remarkable discoveries that it was brought to notice. I have always been confident that my noble friend Lord Addison, as the head of the Medical Research Council, would see to it that the matter was put right, but I should very much like to be informed whether agenising is being continued.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships, may I interrupt the House for one moment? It has been represented to me within the last few minutes that we have a very light programme on Tuesday, and I was wondering whether it would be to your Lordships' convenience to adjourn this debate and resume it after the debate on Tuesday. The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, has a Motion on the Paper with regard to military courts, which I believe will last only a short time. If it meets with your Lordships' wishes, we could adjourn the debate until then, when perhaps we shall get a fuller House.


My Lords, I was about to speak when the noble Viscount rose. Certainly, from my point of view and, I think, those who sit on these Benches, the suggestion made by the Leader of the House is most acceptable. We should get a wider House and the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, would have a better opportunity of answering the various points put to him than if he were rushed to-night. Incidentally, I have another Motion on the Paper on Tuesday, but I live in hopes that that also may be easily disposed of.


My Lords, in those circumstances, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Viscount Addison.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.