§ 2.43 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT rose to call attention to the high percentage of processed and chemically treated foods now consumed, and to ask Her Majesty's Government to do everything possible to increase the availability of fresh food for the people and the furtherance of supply of home-killed food and home-grown food; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that this is not the first time since I have been a Member of your Lordships' House that I have raised this particular topic. In my view, the question of food, its treatment and quality, is of the utmost importance to the health of our people. Of course, I speak as a layman and I am very glad to see here to-day my noble friend Lord Horder. I 802 hope that he will give us the advantage of his great knowledge on this subject.
§ Those of your Lordships who have to do with hospitals and nursing homes will realise the tremendous strain placed upon these institutions in regard to supplying sufficient treatment for those requiring it. It appears that the National Health Service causes delay. I will tell your Lordships of a particular experience of my own. My son, who, as I thought, was going to be treated by the National Health Service, was told that his trouble (I need not go into what it was) could not be dealt with for nine months. As he had to go for his military service within a few months I asked myself, "What am I going to do about it?" Eventually, I had to get the best physician and surgeon I could to deal with the matter, and, one way and another, it cost me £120. That shows the congestion that must exist in all departments of the hospitals and the nursing homes. There are any number of postponements of what, to my knowledge, are necessary operations. So far as I can see, the only thing that cannot be postponed to-day and is dealt with very readily is having a baby. Nobody can stop that.
§ Taking into consideration the effect of unsuitable food on animals, and indeed on human beings, there seems to be no question that in regard to almost all illnesses food is the most important question. I am a trustee of, I suppose, the biggest clinic in this country, and the number of people who come in for special diet is very large. To me, being a layman, that shows that something is wrong with the "tummy." If food is going to put that trouble right, it is probably caused by wrong food. I feel that this question should be tackled at once. I know something is happening in the direction I desire, but certainly not enough. In order to give your Lordships some justification for my having the temerity to raise this question in your Lordships' House, I have with me the Report of the Ministry of Health, which some of your Lordships may have read, covering the period April 1, 1950, to December 31, 1951. With your Lordships' permission, I shall give a few quotations and conclusions arrived at in this very important Paper which is set out for the Minister of Health and is signed by a well-known man in the medical world, Sir John 803 Charles. Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry.
Let us take one question which is very much stressed in this Report, the question of dysentery and its increase. I will not weary your Lordships with many statistics, but taking 1950 and 1951, the Report shows that while the number of cases notified in 1950 was 17,286, in 1951 it was 28,590. That has very much disturbed the learned gentleman who compiled this Report. I should like also to read your Lordships quite short quotations from other parts of this Report dealing with various subjects. On page 19, there arises the question of stillbirths, and this is what the Report says:
The lack of progress in reducing the stillbirth rate in the last two or three years must be regarded as disappointing and, in fact, disturbing; particularly when compared with the rapid reduction that was achieved between 1936 and 1948. Intensified efforts are needed to combat the causes of stillbirths and it may be that the first step will be to determine more accurately what these causes are; in this field our knowledge is inadequate.
§ That, my Lords, is a very important and forthright statement.
§ The next question I should like to quote here concerns the deplorable situation with regard to cancer. I will not give your Lordships the figures; they are deplorable, and show a marked increase. Then I come to page 51. Here I find something which appeals to me very much, because it is bang on the subject which I am discussing. In a comprehensive table are set out statistics with regard to outbreaks and family outbreaks of food poisoning in 1951. It shows that infection comes in a far greater percentage from certain types of food than from others. Take canned fish. The total number of outbreaks given is 15. For processed fish the figure is 1. For shellfish the total is 2, and for fish generally it is 4. But please note that the number for canned fish is 15. Meat comes next. The total number of outbreaks due to canned meat was 25, and to processed and made-up meat 114. Then figures are given for fresh meat and gravy. The figure is 1 in each instance. Exactly the same sort of proportions are found with regard to other foods. In the case of fresh vegetables and canned vegetables, for instance, it is shown that there was one outbreak due to fresh vegetables, while 2 were due to canned vegetables.804
Here I am going to make a suggestion to my noble friend, and perhaps I may put it this way. We go to a shop wishing to buy something to eat which is tinned—it may be that we have nothing else in the house and are obliged to buy something. Our purchase is contained in a tin. There is no mark on that tin to indicate the vintage, so to speak, of the contents. Your Lordships will be aware that there are certain baby foods which are not to be used when a certain time has elapsed after their manufacture. I make this suggestion to my noble friend. It would not cost very much to the manufacturer of these tinned or processed foods if relevant dates were put on the tins so that you would know that, like your wine, the food was of a certain vintage. I think that would stop a great deal of the use of tinned food. In some cases we do not know the age of the tinned stuff we buy. It may be five, ten, fifteen or twenty years old. It is all very well to say, "Oh, but of course it is hermetically sealed." I am one of those who do not believe for one moment that tinned food does not deteriorate with age. Passing to page 54 of the Report, we find further matter of considerable interest in this connection. I am afraid that this afternoon I am going to speak for a longer time than I usually do, but I feel that this is a matter with which one should deal pretty exhaustively. On page 54 the question of the notification of food poisoning is dealt with. I would draw your Lordships' attention to this passage:
For notification of food poisoning to be of full value it must be prompt and of all cases of gastro-intestinal illness. But in his subsequent investigations the medical officer of health may, not infrequently, find that despite the best efforts of the bacteriologist and himself, there is a substantial incidence of gastrointestinal illness of sudden onset in patients from whom no pathogenic organism can he recovered nor any vehicle of infection incriminated.
§ This is going on all the time; It is all wrong. We were not meant to be like this. I feel that what I have already quoted justifies my raising this question in your Lordships House to-day.
§ I have just a few more remarks to make with regard to this Report. On page 61, the question of poisoning in school meals, curiously enough, is dealt with. There appears to be a distinct indication that 805 a careful investigation should be made into this subject. That is the conclusion one draws from the results shown. Finally, I come to page 111 of the Report. On this page we are given information on a subject which is occupying the attention of a great many people, and I propose to say just a few sentences about it—I refer to the question of premature infant birth. Apparently that is occurring to a very serious extent. My noble friend on the Opposition Front Bench must know all about this. Certainly, the figures given here show that there are far too many premature births and far too many children born underweight. Percentages are given of children of weights such as 5½lb. and so on. I will not weary your Lordships with all the figures; you will find them on page 111. To me they demonstrate that the mothers are undernourished or not properly nourished. Many other important questions are, of course, dealt with in the Report, and many of them, in my view, justify me in bringing this matter up to-day.
I do not intend to weary your Lordships by speaking upon my pet subject, except to say just a few words about it in passing—I refer, of course, to bread. My noble friend Lord Hankey has a Motion on the Order Paper about that. He is going to deal with the question of the composition of our bread. No one knows more about it than he does, so I shall only touch very lightly upon it. I hope that on this topic we shall have the benefit of the opinion of noble Lords who are members of the medical profession. I believe that in the use of agene and other so-called "improvers" we find one of the great dangers to the general health of the people. We are still using agene in the making of bread. That is a matter with which Lord Hankey will deal, but my noble friend Lord Derwent, who cannot be here to-day, told me that I might make a few remarks which he had intended to make. I understand that Lady Derwent had been ill for some time. She was never well; there was always something wrong with her. Finally, it was decided that she should have a most thorough examination with a view to finding out what really was wrong with her. It was discovered that she was suffering from agene poisoning. As I have said, Lord Derwent cannot be here to-day but he told me that he would be very glad if I mentioned that fact. The curious
thing is that one of the reasons they found out the cause of the trouble was that when Lady Dement went to France her condition began to improve. When she returned to this country, her doctors told her not to touch national bread. They also said to her, "Never eat anything made out of 'National' flour which has in it agene and these various chemical improvers." Lady Dement followed their directions, and as a result she has since then been improving all the time. Her physicians are of opinion that the improvement in her health is entirely clue to this change of diet, and that her illness resulted from the poison which she had accumulated in her system through eating bread made from national flour. I was in Edinburgh the other day and visited a shop which some of your Lordships may know. It is that great shop where is sold the finest quality shortbread. At that establishment there is displayed a notice which reads:
No flour is used in these premises which has been treated.
§ I had not time then to inquire just what that notice meant, but I think it really means that they see to it that the flour they use has not been, in my term, doped with various chemicals. I believe that my noble friend Lord Hankey has something to say about the Scottish views on this subject.
§ Some of your Lordships know that a Committee is sitting at the present time, the Zuckerman Committee. I will not quote the terms of reference but give you the headline—"Working Party on precautionary measures against toxic chemicals used in agriculture: risks to wild life." I hope that perhaps this learned Committee will go into the question of whether poisonous sprays used on crops infiltrate into the human being. I have seen people who have eaten fruit that has been sprayed and who have undoubtedly been poisoned thereby. With great respect to my noble friend, Lord Carrington, who is going to reply, I suggest that an investigation into this question should be started at once. We know quite well the dangers of these sprays. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will recollect that when we had in this House the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Bill it was said that three people had already been killed by using these sprays. The Bill laid down that protective clothing had 807 to be worn when these sprays were used. I remember asking him then what would happen if I were walking along a lane beside a field that was being sprayed and there was a wind blowing: what would happen to me with no protection? The answer was, "Oh, you would get only a little of it." But I do not want any of it. I hope this matter will be seriously thought over. I know that the noble Lord thinks this is all very cranky and stupid, but there are many thousands of people in this country who are concerned at this situation.
§ I am glad to see that my noble friend Lord Woolton is here to-day, because I believe that during the war he initiated something I am going to suggest now and which has just begun in one or two counties. Your Lordships will remember that great man who was murdered in France, Sir Jack Drummond. He was a great and learned man and his loss to the country on this particular subject is very great. I remember he once said to me that if the people of this country could be fed on fresh, home-grown and home-killed food, he believed that in twenty years the hospitals would be nearly empty. His view was that the greater bulk of diseases is due to feeding and stomach troubles. For one thing, think of the distances food has to travel. I remember Sir Jack Drummond illustrating his point by saying this. You go into the garden and cut yourself a lettuce. What do you do? You kill it. You take it into the house, wash it and eat it, but in the short space of time you have still all the goodness in it: all the food qualities are there. But put it into a crate and send it up to Covent Garden, perhaps 150 miles, and then back 60 or 70 miles to be sold—it is gradually dying and all the life and goodness is dying out of it.
§ My noble friend Lord Woolton organised during the war the zoning of food supply, Where there are, say, 100,000 people, you can, without much difficulty, see how much fresh food is grown in that area. It seems to me quite simple to have a collecting station in the middle of that area and if it supplies all that is necessary for the people in that area, anything extra could be sent to an adjoining area, probably a big town, and used up in that way, instead of being sent on a long journey up to a bottleneck like Covent 808 Garden. I am certain that an enormous amount of food is sent to Covent Garden that could easily be utilised without its going anywhere near that place at all. I hope my noble friend will take that point into consideration and obviate these long trips and the stale food which is the result of them.
§ We now keep boys and girls at school up to fifteen years of age, and up to sixteen, if they so desire. Instead of lecturing them about sex, for goodness sake lecture them on food and how they should eat, what they should eat and how to take care of their bodies. I think that would he a very good substitute for these ridiculous ideas about sex the poor kids get hold of. Let us brush out all that and put in food and how to take care of their bodies, which would be of the greatest advantage to them in after life.
§ Without encroaching, I hope, on what my noble friend Lord Hankey is going to say, I want to get in another word on bread. I do not know whether the new wheat flour is actually on the market, but I should like to see some competent body investigate it. I want to stress that this should be a Committee composed of members who are men of experience in deficiency diseases. A great deal is said in this Report about deficiency diseases—and the Report is not by me, it is by the Ministry of Health: this is the latest thing they have produced. I should like to see this body composed of members of the Medical Research Council, the Nutrition Society, the Ministry of Health, the British Medical Association and the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and with no representatives of vested interests at all on it. We must not have any of those; it must be made up purely of scientists and experienced medical men. I say that with great emphasis.
§ The degradation of our daily bread has reached a stage which makes it vital that a halt should be called at once. In my view, the wheat germ and wheat germ oil should never be taken out of bread, and we all know it is. I should like to give your Lordships some figures from this Report on the effect on women of the removal of the wheat germ oil and Vitamin E from flour. With women taking wheat germ oil, the number of cases of threatened abortion was 100; with those not taking it, 166; abortion, among women taking the wheat germ oil, 30; 809 among those not taking it, 150; premature birth, 37 among women taking the wheat germ oil, and 71 among those not taking it; toxæmia, among women taking the wheat germ oil, 21 cases; not taking it, 100;stillbirths, 4 among those taking it, and 23 among those not taking it. In this book it is laid down that the synthetic vitamin has been proved valueless in the treatment of spontaneous miscarriages in women. Wheat germ oil is of number one importance. I was talking about this subject some time ago to a well-known breeder of horses. and he said that they always give wheat germ oil to the brood mares. Surely, we should see to it that our women get it, too. Some of your Lordships may know of the well-known Cheshire panel doctor, with whom I am familiar. When barren couples come to see him, the first question asked is, "What do you eat?" In 99 cases out of 100, when he is told what is eaten, he says: "How can you expect to produce life if you do riot eat it?" The people are put on a proper diet, and in due course there is happiness in the home.
With regard to general health, according to this book each month about two-thirds of all men between the ages of 21 and 64 have an illness. For instance, in January, 1951, 75 out of 100 had an illness, while in July, the healthiest month, the number was just over 63. In regard to women, of course, the situation is even worse. Some of your Lordships may have noticed in the Daily Express of June 8, this report:
The Ministry of Food bought from Sicily 500,000 gallons of canned concentrated orange juice, for distribution under child-welfare schemes. The cost was more than £750,000. When the shipment arrived in Britain it was found to contain a chemical preservative—which is forbidden in the Ministry's specification.
'We are satisfied there is nothing injurious in the juice,' a Ministry man said last night.
But the consignment is not being put out for children. It is being put in barrels and 'reconditioned' chemically for sale to soft-drink makers.
§ Doctored it comes in, and re-doctored it goes out, for all of us to drink when we want a soft drink. The soft-drink makers have got on to it, and have warned their people to be careful about it. That shows the sort of situation we are in. A little colouring matter is added to make it look nice, or it is doctored up for use. This is a most serious question when you think 810 of it, and I should hate to feel that I was responsible in any way for any child with whom I had anything to do, or anybody else, being given this stuff.
§ I should now like to touch on the mental side—some of your Lordships may think I am a little mental! Those of us who have had to do with animals, and particularly those who went hunting in the, old days, when we could afford to, know about not being able to get on the hunter that has had too much corn. It is the effect of the food on his mind: he gets obstreperous, tries to buck you off, and that sort of thing. Is it quite without the bounds of possibility that the food taken by humans has an influence on their attitude to life? I would put one or two thoughts into the minds of your Lordships. We have all experienced something of this ourselves. Generally speaking, had food causes indigestion; arid when we have a bad attack of indigestion we are ill-tempered through the discomfort of it. There are those who have not got enough food, or who have the wrong type of food. Surely the characters and minds of the people in that physical condition must be affected.
§ What it really comes to is this, to put it baldly: that the comfort of our "tummies" greatly affects our point of view and our attitude to every-day problems. I know that it does mine, and I am sure that some of your Lordships must have been affected in the same way. Happiness and kindliness come from good health and freedom from pain and discomfort. We all know that. Just think of what you see in nearly every hotel in the country. You see the automatic slot machine as you go in at the door for stomach powders, aspirin tablets and purgatives. Properly fed people do not want these drugs. I know that it sounds amusing, but that is what is happening in our country to-day. There are far too many people making fortunes out of tampering with natural food that the Almighty meant us to eat; and there are far too many people making vast sums out of the antidotes to eating these bad foods. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That Her Majesty's Government should reconsider the use of agene in flour for human or 811 animal consumption. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must explain, first, that I am rising to speak to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Teviot. It is true that I have a Motion down on one aspect of his subject, but I understand that it would be irregular for me to move my Motion at this stage of the proceedings. Therefore, although I shall speak mainly on the same subject, I shall not move my Motion until after the debate, if necessary. Among the processed and chemically treated foods now consumed embraced by the Motion of my noble friend none is more important than bread, the staff of life, the most widely and generally consumed substance. As in this case a position has been reached where urgent action seems to be necessary, owing to the introduction of agene, I shall devote most of what I have to say, though not exclusively all my remarks, to that subject.
At the outset, I want to suggest that the Motion of my noble friend, and my own Motion, if I move it, ought to be considered in the light of the Resolution adopted by the House of Lords on October 24, 1945, namely:
That the health of the population should be the guiding principle to govern the nutritional policy of the Government.…
§ Agene is a by-product of the white bread complex, which for 200 years has been the cause of much adulteration of food. Very briefly, therefore, I wish to put what I have to say in a historical framework, and for that I rely mainly, though not exclusively, on the standard work on the subject—namely, The Englishman's Food, by the late and deeply lamented Sir Jack Drummond, of whom the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has spoken so eloquently, and Anne Willbraham. I do not want to say much on early days, but there is one point which I think may be rather amusing. As early as the reign of King John, prosecutions, especially for false weight, were frequent. The normal punishment was either the pillory or being dragged through the uneven and dirty streets on a hurdle, with the offending food tied round the neck of the culprit. I am sure your Lordships will agree that our ancestors knew how to make the punishment fit the crime.
It was not until the early 18th century that the popular craze for white food became serious. Until then it had been the
luxury of the rich, and the new craze started mainly in the towns; but as the wheat crop was often insufficient to supply the need, the adulteration of bread followed. The position is perfectly described in the words of Tobias Smollett's Matthew Bramble you will see why I read them when I finish:
The bread I eat in London is a deleterious paste mixed up with chalk"—
I shall not say anything about that, because we mix it with chalk—
alum and bone-ashes, insipid to the taste and destructive to the constitution. The good people are not ignorant of this adulteration; but they prefer it to wholesome bread, because it is whiter than the meal of corn. Thus they sacrifice their taste and health, and the lives of their tender infants, to a most absurd gratification of a misjudging eye; and the miller or the baker is obliged to poison them and their families in order to live by his profession.
§ I cannot say that a good deal of that does not apply to-day.
Now alum, the principal improver for 100 years or more, is a double sulphate of aluminium and potash. I used it one cricket season for hardening my hands for wicket keeping. But it was not found so good for the internal organs, and the townsfolk became afflicted by chronic dyspepsia, while their children are described as "pale, puny, lingering and sickly." But despite their sufferings, despite the warnings of doctors and scientists, or the thrice-repeated efforts of Parliament—and this is very interesting—between 1750 and 1800 to foster the sale of a standard bread stamped with an "S," containing more bran, darker in colour, a penny a loaf cheaper and incomparably more wholesome, our people still clung to their adulterated white bread as obstinately as they do to-day. They continued to do so even after the use of alum had been prohibited by law in the 18th century. Jack Drummond records:
At no period have contemporary records shown the merchants to be guilty of such flagrant adulteration as between 1800 and 1850.
§ What could you expect? They had no established principle to guide Governments. In the 1850's thanks largely to the Lancet and Punch—whose editors I hope will take note; the Lancet has already broken a lance on agene—the Government was goaded into action. An 813 official inquiry by a select Parliamentary Commission was instituted and remedial legislation was enacted, but often rather feebly administered.
Not long after this a new trouble entered into the question, for about 1877—the year of my birth—a new "improver" had been developed, namely, steel rollers to replace the old grindstones. The result was what Jack Drummond called "poverty bread," because it had been robbed of its essential vitamins and minerals, which were sold as valuable by-products to feed cattle and pigs. This may have nude fortunes for the trade, but it completed the ruin of the nation's teeth from which, I suppose, nearly everyone present, like myself, is suffering in some degree. To quote the historian again:
By the end of the 19th century the slate of the teeth of the nation was appalling.
§ Forty per cent. of the volunteers for the war in South Africa were rejected, mostly for had teeth. The tragedy of this "poverty bread" was that its dangers were unsuspected and were only discovered some fifty years later, about 1925, after the establishment of the Medical Research Council. Until then one can almost hear the experts saying, as they say of agene to-day: "There is no proof that 'poverty bread' is injurious to human beings." The point is that they never thought of tying it up to the decay of the nation's teeth. By the time the truth was revealed, about 1925, the people and, consequently, Governments were used to it and had become apathetic. The same Governments as in the military sphere disarmed us "to the edge of risk," disarmed over the edge of risk in the field of nutrition. The health aspect of white bread was completely disregarded and, in spite of the improvement inaugurated during the war by the noble Viscount (as I am glad to call him for the first time), Lord Woolton, we are to-day, I fear, drifting hack towards "poverty bread."
Coming to the dental condition to-day, I will not quote statistics as they have been quoted before, but I will quote, if I may, the leading dentists. At the annual meeting of the British Dental Association at Cardiff last September, when modern foods were blamed for widespread decay of teeth, Professor Darling, head of the British Dental
School, after speaking of the extremely good teeth of the Esquimaux, said that
decay followed contact with the tinned food and sophisticated flour of civilised trading posts,
thus confirming the mass of evidence that your Lordships have heard in the past on this subject. The new President of the Dental Association in his inaugural address pointed out that
the dental condition of a large proportion of our people is appalling.
That is the same as it was in 1900. The retiring President insisted that
it was not necessary for flour to be ultra white, fine and fluffy. An ideal diet should form the main theme of our education.
§ I agree. I have been urging that since 1939 and my noble friend has urged it to-day, or something of the kind.
§ As though more than 200 years of "improving" flour, first by the addition of alum and other whiteners, and later by abstraction of the essentials to health, were not enough, in 1921 yet another so-called "improver" was introduced for the nation's flour in the form of agene, the trade name given to nitrogen trichloride. So surreptitious was its introduction that it is not even mentioned in the first edition of The Englishman's Food, published in 1939, and I myself, who was watching these things closely because I was horrified by the fact that up to 60 per cent. of our would-be recruits for the Army were being rejected, had never heard of agene until twenty-five years later—1946, when Sir Edward Mellanby published the fact that when fed to dogs this flour produced nervous disorders and, if continued, canine hysteria and eventually death. The Government of the United States, after repeating and extending Mellanby's experiments, made the use of this flour a penal offence, and Canada did likewise. Both countries, however, permitted the use of another chemical "improver," chlorine dioxide—of which more anon. For a few years the British Government did nothing but discuss the matter; but in 1950, after the usual haggling between the trade and the scientists, to which my noble friend referred, they at last decided to ban agene but to permit chlorine dioxide, which they warned us it would take a long time to provide. So long, indeed, has it taken that to-day, seven years after Mellanby's warning, the banned and consequently discredited 815 agene is still in general use and chlorine dioxide, as I shall show in a moment, is suspect.
§ Now I come to the technical case against agene—with some trepidation in the presence of medical experts, but I shall found all I have to say on published reports by admitted experts. A pioneer among the professional public critics of agene in this country was Dr. Coughlan, of Hull, who in June, 1940—some six years before Mellanby's experiments were published—informed the Ministry of Health of experiments he had made on human volunteers which led him to suspect, astonishing as it seemed to him, that the national health was being endangered by its use. He seems to have been snubbed for his pains. But to the layman the long letter he published in the Medical Press on April 2, 1952, in which he describes his experiments in detail, provides presumptive evidence of a tendency for agene to induce coronary thrombosis and other diseases of the heart and the circulatory system, and suggest that certain reactions, which he describes in language too technical for me to summarise, set up ideal conditions for ulcer formation.
§ This disturbing indictment was supported by official statistics, showing that the death rate from heart diseases, including cerebro-vascular diseases, between 1921,the year of the introduction of agene, and 1949 increased four times. Since then, I understand, there has been further evidence that the death rate in this category has increased. I have checked this. One of the diseases he mentioned, coronary thrombosis, is spoken of in many medical reports as the "twentieth century disease," the "modern scourge," and a "challenge to medical science and preventive medicine." But heart and vascular diseases are not the only complaints in respect of which agenised flour is suspect. On July 8, 1950, the Medical Press published a Report by Dr. Pollock, the Physician in Charge of the allergy clinic at the Middlesex Hospital, showing that there are many people who, while tolerant of flour made from the wheat berry, become the subject of allergic symptoms on eating bread made from agenised flour. He added that, in consequence, bleached flour products were routinely prohibited in the clinical interests of the patients.816
§ Again, as recently as March 21, 1953, the Lancet published, with a leading article, a paper by two distinguished doctors, C. G. Sheldon and Allan Yorke, describing in detail carefully controlled experiments and observations over many months in the case of a woman afflicted for a long time with serious skin disorders, associated with loss of appetite and mental depression. Their unescapable conclusion was that chemically treated flour was the cause. Nitrogen chloride—agene—was the original cause of the trouble, but chlorine dioxide was found to produce the same symptoms, which in both cases ceased when chemically treated flour dropped out of the diet. That is why I said that chlorine dioxide was now suspect. Among other very interesting points, there is mention of very small amounts of agenised flour which start the trouble again, such as a ham sandwich made of agenised bread, a small cake of agenised flour, or a gravy thickened with agenised flour. I am told that even such a thing as an ordinary ice cream as sold in the streets may have in it a certain amount of agenised flour, and. that even pepper has agenised flour in it, so that one has to be careful about it. Another significant point was the mental depression which my noble friend has mentioned—significant owing to the great increase in mental illness and the so-called psycho-somatic disorders, duodenal ulcers and so on. I could expand a good deal on the subject of mental disorders, but as my noble friend has already mention this subject I will not do so.
§ This wise and moderate report asks the question: "Is this a case of allergy, or merely the first recognition of a common disorder?" With the valour of ignorance I put my money on the latter—recognition of a common disorder. Different people's resistance varies very greatly; some resisted the decay of teeth that followed the extraction of the vital element in flour much longer than others. Some can tolerate either over-smoking or excessive alcohol longer than others. Many poisons are cumulative; and if agene produces disorders in many people, as Pollock reported, or even in the very carefully-tested Sheldon and Yorke case, I submit that it is presumptive evidence to enjoin great caution in the use of agene.817
§ Now I want to turn to agene abroad. Your Lordships may or may not have noticed from a Question which was answered recently—and I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his promptitude in furnishing the information—that of eighteen nations in Europe and North America, inducing United Kingdom and Eire, nine permit the use of agene, and nine ban it. Some of the nations who have not banned it do not use wheat as their staple cereal, and so probably it was not worth their while to impose a ban. It so happened that yesterday, when I was in Paris, I met the ambassador of one of those nations and asked him a question. He said that the peasantry all ate the rye bread or other kinds of black bread, but that in the towns there was a struggle going on between those who preferred the white and those who preferred the other. He did say, however, that, although they had not banned agene, they did not use it, which is what I expected to find.
§ If agene is as dangerous as some believe, the countries that do not permit its use ought to be much freer than the countries who do use it, from the complaints which it is suspected of promoting. I have had time for only a cursory and rather amateurish investigation into the position in one foreign country—namely, France—which I visit every week, and have visited every week since 1945, broadly speaking. From preliminary inquiries among friends and acquaintances, it seems that in France, although coronary thrombosis and the like are recognised as diseases, there has been nothing there to compare with the great increase that has occurred here and from which we are suffering, especially in higher Governmental, administrative and business circles. "Why is it," I asked myself, "that some eight or ten of my own British friends have been stricken by these fell diseases and not one of my French friends?" Nor can I hear of anybody who has. Of course, that is no evidence.
§ So I therefore turned to statistics, and after losing myself in a maze of international figures, which the World Health Organisation is beginning to disentangle, and with a little guidance from Somerset House, I have compiled a few figures comparing the position in the United 818 Kingdom with that in France. From these figures, it seems that the number of deaths from diseases of the heart and other circulatory diseases have risen between 1938 and 1949. That is the longest interval in which I could be sure of like figures. In the United Kingdom there has been a rise from 148,980 to 202,750, and in France from 104,820 to 115,080. That is a rise of 53,770, or 36 per cent., in the United Kingdom, against 10,260, or 9.8 per cent., in France. If the comparison could have been extended to 1950, our figures would have been a great deal higher; the increase would have been over 40 per cent. The French figures for that year were not available. Even so, on the 1949 figures our percentage increase is not far off four times that of the French.
§ Perhaps I ought just to mention that, compared with the total numbers of deaths from all causes, the deaths from heart and circulatory diseases in the United Kingdom were about 26.6 per cent. in 1938, and 3.44 per cent. in 1949—that is, a rise of 7.8 per cent. There was a gap in the French figures, I suppose owing to the war, and at the present time I have been unable to get their figures. In France, the percentage of deaths from these diseases in 1949 was 26.6, compared with our figure of 34.4. In any event, if agene was not the cause, perhaps the speaker for the Government will tell us what are the differences between the circumstances of the two countries which caused the discrepancy. I should be glad if my statistical calculations could be checked by experts. I feel that that statistical investigation ought to be followed up. It is quite a difficult business, for there are a tremendous lot of adding up, cross references and difficulties in getting the exact comparison, but I think I have it very closely.
Let me summarise the general case against agene. First, there is no dispute that it is injurious to dogs and some other animals, but, as stated in the leading article in the Lancet on March 21 last:
After five years there seems no satisfactory answer to give to the plain man who asks why, if agenised flour is poisonous to growing dogs he should be virtually obliged to give it to his growing child.
§ It would be very nice if we could have the answer.819
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD CARRINGTON)
I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but since he has quoted an article from the Lancet will he be good enough to read from the second paragraph in the article—or perhaps, if he has not it with him, he would like me to do so?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I think it would be a mistake to let it go out from this House that the article in the Lancet was unfavourable to what Her Majesty's Government were doing. At the very beginning of the article it says:From the facts of this one case"—that is the case to which the noble Lord referred—it would be quite unjustifiable to conclude that flour treated with nitrogen trichloride"—that is agene—or chlorine dioxide is unsuitable for human consumption.
§ LORD HANKEY
I am in complete agreement with that. I am not concluding that this is absolute proof. I am about to come to that. In that connection, a friend of mine who quite recently visited a mill producing agenised flour noticed that wholemeal flour was set aside for making dog biscuits. The agenised flour went to the children, so we give our children what we would not give to a dog.
Secondly, many of the nations that consume mainly white bread have prohibited agene, and France, which does not permit its use, seems prima facie, to have suffered much less severely than we from some of the more serious diseases which agene is suspected of promoting. Thirdly, experts have warned us that agene may promote tendencies towards coronary thrombosis and other heart and vascular diseases, ulcers, skin diseases, lack of appetite, allergic complaints, and mental depression, and the list in Dr. Bicknell's book is even longer. Fifthly, after the experience of a century and a half of alum poisoning of the townsfolk, and fifty years of "poverty bread" before the discovery that it had ruined the nation's teeth, it is gambling with the health of the nation to permit any chemical "improver" whatsoever until it is beyond suspicion, even in its long-range effects, and I under- 820 stand that, until there has been research into the end products, we shall not be able to claim that.
My Lords, I have answered the noble Lord's intervention. I do not claim that the case against agene, as I have presented it, provides proof, as a whole or in part, that agene is deleterious—
§ LORD HANKEY
That is perfectly true, but there are a great many other things in the article in the Lancet which I dare say I could quote. I do not consider that it provides proof that agene is deleterious, except in individual cases, and I offer it only as presumptive evidence that agene is dangerous. I would remind your Lordships again that the Governments of the United States and Canada found the evidence sufficient to justify their banning agene, and I would also point out that no one has been able to prove that agene is not as dangerous as was the "poverty bread" to the teeth of the nation. No doubt there are many causes, or contributory causes, of the complaints that are worrying many people and doctors. They might perhaps include long-range effects of antibiotics not yet revealed, the cataract of medicine that people pour down their throats, the ten millions of aspirins that Dr. Bicknell tells us are consumed every day, the abuse of aperients and sleeping draughts, excessive smoking and the cocktail habit, the vast consumption of tinned foods, insufficient exercise; or as some people think, these maladies may also be a consequence of the day-to-day worries of the Welfare State—over taxation, especially in regard to income tax and the like. I cannot pretend to give the answer; but if I were responsible for the decision I should want to be convinced of some overwhelming health advantage in agene before I permitted its continuance for a single day.
What are the advantages of agene? I take the brief account given by the Minister of Food, Major Lloyd George, in reply to a Question in another place on November 29, 1951, as follows—I have not been able to find anything since then. He said this:Flour treated with agene yields a dough which has more uniform baking qualities and 821 is more easily handled by the baker; the resulting loaf is whiter and of superior lightness and texture. Agene treatment has no effect on the keeping quality of the flour.I do not know whether that statement satisfies your Lordships; it does not satisfy me. The implication that agene is necessary to obtain the qualities mentioned is illusory. In France, where agene is banned, the bread has all those qualities, and is much more palatable than ours. I believe almost every regular traveller to France agrees with that. For many years in my own lifetime, before agene was discovered—fifty years before it was discovered—we had palatable bread here, even if it was "poverty bread."
The Minister of Food said in another place on April 1 last, that unagenised flour was available on special request. In my own family, some Dominion visitors who do not relish our agenised bread are at this moment getting unagenised white bread. As lately as Saturday last they told me that it was delicious. Sheldon and Allan Yorke cured their patients by substituting unagenised for agenised bread. I have here a list of seven milling firms which do not use agene. So far as I cansee, there is absolutely no need for agene for the production of decent bread. I do not know the answer to that. I hope the noble Lord who is to reply will give me an answer. From the Minister's statements it seems that agenised bread does not even keep longer, as I had always understood it did. I believe that no one has yet claimed that it brings the slightest benefit to the health of anybody. In that connection may I just recall once more the Resolution that I quoted earlier—namely,That the health of the population should be the guiding principle to govern the nutritional policy of the Government"—your Lordships will pardon me if I now recall the second part of the same Resolution, which prescribes: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.My Lords, I am afraid that it cannot be said that the health of the consumer has been considered first in this matter, and I submit that all the consumer's health gets from the policy is a risk which experts have warned us for some seven 822 years is as incalculable as it proved to be for a long time in the case of "poverty bread." The only people who get any benefit at all are possibly the millers and certainly the "other interests" who supply the huge quantity of unnecessary agene and the long and terrifying list of other chemical "improvers" and "emulsifiers" mentioned in Dr. Bicknell's book, with which I have no time to deal to-day. I suppose the consumer pays for these suspect luxuries, but the financial aspects of this murky subject are beyond my ken.
Unfortunately, the bread policy recently announced in another place is not very reassuring. Agene is not dropped. There are to be two kinds of flour, one of a high extraction rate (how high I do not know) and the other of 70 per cent. extraction, to which will be added "three important materials to bring its nutritional value up to that of a high extraction flour." But 70 per cent. was the figure of the "poverty loaf," and at the post-war conference of 1945 the official scientific and medical members placed on record in the Report thatthe retention of the natural constituents of the wheat grain is so incomparably preferable to reinforced that they are not prepared to contemplate the adoption of the latter.It looks rather as if the Government have adopted an expedient roundly condemned by their own experts. No wonder that Dr. Hill, the former "Radio Doctor," in introducing the 70 per cent. loaf to the House of Commons used the wordsif the public choose to buy it.But of course the public, who mostly dwell in complete darkness on this subject, and with 250 years of adulterated white bread behind them, will continue to buy whatever is foisted upon them. The miserable, 70 per cent. agenised, artificially boosted white loaf will fill the shop window and the counter; and soon it will become as hard to buy either the new high extraction bread or wholemeal bread as in many places it is to buy wholemeal bread to-day.
I cannot conclude without referring to the great hopes that have sprung up throughout this country and the Commonwealth and Empire that better times are coming. First, there has been the Coronation. The triumphant conquest of Mount Everest has given a prodigious uplift. The armistice in Korea adds to our hopes. We have strong national 823 leadership, especially over the whole field of external affairs, which deserves to be, and must be, reflected in our home affairs, if the new spirit is to be maintained. Surely the first and most pressing need is to build up an A1 population: A1in all respects, healthy bodies, healthy minds and healthy spirits, for the physical, the mental and the spiritual are indivisible—a fact too often forgotten in administration. I am dealing to-day only with the need for healthy bodies. The foundation of a good physique is good food: not luxurious food, but clean and sound food as nature intended, unadulterated by chemicals or anything else—and plenty of it. And, above all, as bread is the staple article of food, the utmost care must be taken to ensure that it contains all the elements with which nature has endowed it, and nothing deleterious. That, my Lords, is my case.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ LORD HORDER
My Lords, I think there must be general agreement that the nation's health stands first and foremost in our thoughts, not only in times of peace, with which we are blessed at the moment, but also in times of war, and in this matter of health food, we all admit, plays a very significant part. So we must be grateful to the noble Lords who have initiated this debate. Lord Teviot paid me a graceful compliment when he said that he hoped that I would take part in this debate. I hope that Lord Boyd-Orr, a man who has spent his life in the study of nutrition, will also help us in this matter. I am bound to believe that if Lord Teviot and Lord Hankey repeat their efforts, as they have already done twice—this is the third time they have raised this subject—they will surely persuade themselves that they are no longer laymen. Indeed Lord Teviot need hardly have apologised. I think it is true that at times both noble Lords found themselves a little embarrassed by medical terms—but not unduly embarrassed. That is, again, a matter of training, and with a little more training I have no doubt that that trepidation to which Lord Hankey referred will disappear.
But interest is one thing and, forgive me for saying it, knowledge is another, and there have been gaps—I would say rather serious gaps—in factual state- 824 ments to-day in connection with this subject. I was bold enough last year, when this matter came up for debate, to draw attention to the frequency with which that very common fallacy of non sequitur seems to arise in this matter. A calamity, perhaps a national calamity, is mentioned, or a serious disease is mentioned—cancer, for instance. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, mentioned cancer, sinking his voice as people do when they speak of it. Then I waited—I am interested in cancer—for the association, causatively speaking, between cancer and something which is down for discussion to-day. It did not come. We are waiting for an answer. With what causative agent can we associate the incidence of cancer? We should be only too pleased to get that information. I am very glad that Lord Hankey passed to the spokesman of Her Majesty's Government a question which I could not myself answer—namely, if the increase in coronary thrombosis is not due to agene, what is it due to? I wish I knew. We all wish we knew. But these statements really do require checking up.
In New Zealand, agene has never been used in the preparation of bread, and the incidence of coronary thrombosis in New Zealand is comparable exactly with its incidence in this country. Lord Hankey mentioned France. He said that he often went there and that it is a very nice place, but he was not prepared to say much more at the moment about it. This is so serious a matter that statements should be checked up. To quote a part of what the Lancet says and not quote all that the Lancet says which is pertinent to the subject, is not quite fair. Speaking on a facetious note perhaps, and following up this question of non sequitur, one might say that because the road deaths from motor car accidents have increased—which they have, alas!—and chromium has been used in the plating of cars with increasing frequency, therefore people are killed on the roads because of the chromium used in the manufacture of cars. There really is not more logic in some of these statements than there is in that. I do not want to be charged with accusing my friends—for both noble Lords are my friends—of lacking clarity of thought. No, it cannot be that. Is it wishful thinking? Is it that the thesis has got hold of them with 825 such intensity that they forget the principles of logic?
The purpose of improvers in flour is that the bread prepared from the flour shall be acceptable—that is the point—to the senses, to the palate, to the eye and to the smell, as well as nutritious. There are two desiderata—I mentioned them last year and I mentioned them the year before—in respect of bread; and the governmental responsibility for bread which, as has been said, is the staple article of the nation's food, is greater in times of crisis than in times of peace. If someone says: "We are not going to have any crisis," we shall have to think again possibly. But these two desiderata, these two requirements, are very simple. Bread, being the staple article of diet of fifty million people in these islands, must be nutritious up to the light of scientific knowledge of nutrition to-day, and it is a governmental responsibility to see that it is.
Next autumn cereal decontrol is coming into force, and some anxiety has been expressed—yes, I have had the same anxiety as Lord Harkey. Suppose that the nation in its taste, in its wish for a whiter bread, switches over in large numbers from the national loaf, which is of 80 per cent. extraction, to a whiter loaf, which is perhaps of 70 per cent. extraction: are the Government going to see that the minimum of nutritional ingredients in the whiter loaf is still preserved? I understand that is the intention of the Government. I strongly oppose the introduction, even the availability, to the public in the main of this whiter bread if that safeguard is not assured to us. I understand that it is assured to us. Therefore, being an individualist by nature, by temperament, being a free citizen of a free country, as yet I am "all for"(as the expression goes) the citizen getting the bread he wants, the bread he likes and prefers, provided that this overriding obligation is undertaken and fulfilled by the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said he was eating bread fifty years before agene was introduced—again a statement that could have been easily checked. That would mean that in his inter-uterine life he was fed on bread, because he is not 826 yet an octogenarian, I am glad to think. Agene was in use in 1925.
§ LORD HANKEY
Then the date 1921 is wrong. I have been troubled about this, because 1921 is constantly quoted as the year when agene began to be used. I think you will find that is the date mentioned by Sir Edward Mellanby.
§ LORD HORDER
The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, thinks it was 1921. I am informed by the Ministry of Food it was 1925. But the exact year is not a very important point. The fact remains that agene has been in use for improving bread in this country for over 25 years. I suppose that 90 per cent. of flour has been agenised for over a quarter of a century. What about the incidence of coronary thrombosis in the first ten years? The increased incidence of coronary thrombosis has been in the last two decades. But I have already covered the point of the alleged association between the incidence of coronary thrombosis and agene by naming a nation which does not employ agene. Agene was given up by America rather more than two years ago, and there coronary thrombosis has increased still further during the two years in which agene has not been used.
§ LORD HORDER
I am not one of those who have been convinced that agene has produced any illness human beings. We have the historical work of Sir Edward Mellanby, which was dealt with fully last year and which was referred to to-day. Mellanby showed that if dogs were fed with agenised bread, the percentage of agene being much higher than in bread eaten by human beings, he could produce something allied to what the veterinary surgeon calls canine hysteria. I know of no series of nervous or other complaints which even suggest that they are produced by the same reagent as in the case of canine hysteria produced by agene. In the case of the lady with the peculiar skin the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, quoted the Lancet.
§ LORD HORDER
Both the doctors who reported this case were fair enough to raise the question: was this a rare, 827 an isolated case, or was it opening up a new field on the nervous side of disease—something that we had not met before?
§ VISCOUNT HUDSON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but other noble Lords cannot hear a word he is saying.
§ LORD HORDER
May I repeat that the two doctors who reported this case of (may I use our jargon?) dermatitis put the issue very fairly: was this a rare case of allergy—that is, an expression on the part of the skin given by a highly sensitive individual to a particular toxic agent—or was it the first time we had begun to get a hold of some nervous trouble produced by allergy remaining latent over these years and now suddenly discovered? The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said he preferred the second conclusion, because it fits his thesis. It fits my thesis, with no less knowledge, to choose the first. It was an uncommon case of allergy. The lady was very sensitive. Chlorine dioxide was mentioned as an improvement on agene. The Americans have gone over to chlorine dioxide. The lady's skin reacted to chlorine dioxide just as it reacted to agene. That case is still sub judice, if you like.
Let us sift the issue. Was it a rare case of allergy, and therefore remote altogether from nutrition—that is the point I want to make—or was it the first time that we were given an indication of something in the human being analogous to canine hysteria? We will sort that out. I gather, perhaps more from the previous approach to the question of improvers in bread than anything said to-day—but yes, the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, did specifically refer to chemical as against other improvers—that there is a consensus of opinion among the public, who have the right to express a view on the acceptability of and the desiderata in bread, that there should be an improver. Therefore, the Government wisely say: "All right; we will allow an improver." But the Government, no less than the rest of us, sensible people in the main, say: "Let us have an improver that is less likely to arouse suspicion in anybody's mind"—even in the minds of noble Lords who have initiated this debate. "There is no evidence," the Government say, following their expert advisers, "that agenised bread has produced any disease in man." Actually, if 828 a man lived to be 160 he might begin to show some of the signs that the dogs showed, because by then he would have had as much agene as Mellanby gave his dogs. That is another way to look at the picture. But, as I say, I think the Government are justified in going on with agene until an improver can be introduced which cuts out the chemical element altogether.
You may ask, "Why is that not done?" It is not easy. That shifts the question from the scientific field into the field of (shall I say?) technology and industry. There is a process—I have seen it, and no doubt some of your Lordships have—called the batter process: the flour is oxygenised after three-quarters of an hour by being twirled rapidly round, very much as cream is churned to make butter; at a certain time the batter changes in colour and in smell, and the churn changes in sound, which indicates that something has happened to improve the texture of the dough—and it makes acceptable bread. But that is "some" process. Are you going to put hundreds (or is it thousands?) of small bakers, who cannot get the apparatus to do this, out of business? A number of considerations arise, but they are considerations, as I say, which remove the question of improver from the sphere of the chemical to the sphere of the physical. I think we should all welcome it. But you cannot hurry a thing like that.
You certainly should not hurry the changing from one chemical to another, as the Americans have done. They were dragooned into it. The Americans are very sensitive. Somebody said that agenised flour gave dogs canine hysteria; the men went home and told their wives, and there was an outcry. Now they must not use agene any more, and they have not used it. They have switched to another chemical improver, concerning which we still do not know whether the devil they have now got is better or worse than the devil they had. There is no virtue in hurrying over a matter like this. I can say that with greater conviction, perhaps, than many noble Lords, because I have yet to see—and my experience is not a small one—a type of illness analogous to canine hysteria in dogs. Therefore I believe the Government are wise in not being hustled over this question. However, I hope that the millers and the 829 bakers—and I should like an even closer union between the millers and bakers than there has been sometimes—will work on this problem and, as soon as may be, change from the chemical improver to the physical.
Before I conclude, I should like to touch upon another point bearing on this question—namely, the decontrol of cereals and feeding-stuffs. I have already said that I am satisfied by the assurance I have been given, that by some sort of instrument or order (whatever it may be called) the Government will still maintain control over the nutritional side of the bread which the public are allowed to get without price control, without subsidy. If that is to be implemented, I feel happy about it. I also feel happy that the national loaf and the 70 per cent. extraction whiter loaf, if the public choose it by preference, will be fortified and enriched by an adequate amount of calcium (chalk), because, although our milk supply is better than it was—and it was largely on account of the milk being in short supply that the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, during the war, took the advice of his nutritional experts, as I may say he generally did; he believed in the experts—
§ LORD HORDER
The noble Viscount was told that the calcium content of the diet as a whole then available, with milk in short supply, was not such as to keep the nutrition of the country in good condition. Bread was the only vehicle that could be used, and the Minister of Food used it, and it has been used ever since. I am glad that there has been no change in that policy. I have nothing more to say in this connection, except to express my continued confidence in the two Ministries concerned, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Food. I know the degree to which collaboration takes place; and I know the degree to which, still, all these questions are being watched carefully. I am not unaccustomed to looking for snags in matters of nutrition and the way in which the Government guard or do not guard the health of the nation; and I am satisfied with the present position.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a 830 question? He has been speaking to a great extent—in fact, wholly, I think—on the subject of bread. With his great knowledge and experience of diet as a professional man, is he satisfied that with bread containing improvers, such as agene and all these various chemicals to bring about a colour or a particular taste, there is no danger to the public health? I shall be interested to hear what his opinion is on that subject.
§ LORD HORDER
My Lords, the words "all these various chemicals" leave me a little in a difficulty. There has been only one chemical used in this country since 1921 or 1925, and that is agene. I hope, and my hope is shared, I know, by the administrators, that if and when that chemical can be replaced by a physical process which makes the bread as acceptable as agene now makes it, the agene will be discarded.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I do not propose to occupy your Lordships' time for more than a few minutes, but I wish to say perfectly plainly to the noble Lord who has just sat down, that I, for one, strongly disapprove of so-called "improvers" of any description whatever. The noble Lord has referred to New Zealand in connection with agenised bread. It would be interesting to know whether my friend Hillary, who recently reached the top of the world in the interests of the British Commonwealth, had any improvers in any of the bread that he ate. I also wonder whether the New Zealanders who, on their very simple and, to my mind, sensible diet, have grown probably to be physically the most capable people in the world, if we consulted them would not support the two noble Lords who have respectively opened and participated in this debate.
What I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Horder—who obviously sympathises with the principles that have been put forward by both my noble friends Lord Teviot and Lord Hankey—is whether he does not consider that the time has arrived when what some people call the science ofætiology should be. brought to bear. The noble Lord has rather indicated that the knowledge of the causation of animal, including human, disease, is very inadequate. I should have thought that 831 the time had arrived when, before some perfectly impartial Royal Commission or other arbitrating body, the whole of these questions should be thoroughly sifted in toto, and something more definite arrived at by way of answer to criticisms on the part both of the Government and of the medical profession. The noble Lord who has just sat down—and I hope he has not definitely joined the Labour Party—happens to be my own medical adviser and has been for at least thirty-five years.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
That is just what I was about to say. I want to quote words which the noble Lord uttered to me in that capacity at least thirty years ago. He said "Don't take medicine unless absolutely necessary. Do give poor old nature a chance; she is always ready to combat human ills if we do not obstruct the process unduly." I took down those words when he uttered them. I have endeavoured ever since, so far as I can, to follow his advice. As I approach my eighty-sixth year—although, if I may say it quite candidly, a seven months' baby, and having suffered many physical vicissitudes during my long life—what I want to ask him is this: In giving nature a chance, as he advised me, ought we not to give the products of nature a chance, without undue adulteration or sophistication?
There are parts of the world—and I admit that it applies to parts of New Zealand—where the soil or water deficiencies are so flagrant and serious that some steps have to be taken to avoid any serious results to human physique. I have particularly in mind the lack of iodine. There are many parts in the centre of New Zealand, particularly the north of the South Island, where two out of every three women suffer from goitre as a result, no doubt, of the downpour of melted snows from the Southern Alps. In that country, I think very wisely, under Government direction all the salt consumed is iodised salt. I strongly supported that step when I was Governor-General. New Zealand happens to be the outstanding instance in the world of serious soil deficiencies which are slowly being corrected by the provision of what are called "trace elements." It applies particularly 832 to cobalt, molybdenum, manganese and, in some cases, zinc and copper. If I may say so, to my mind that is by far the most important advance in what I may call agricultural science to-day. It is being proved that the very smallest of quantities of these deficient elements will produce the most amazing results in the matter of food production. I mention that only by the way.
I should like to say this in passing. During the last world war, I happened to meet a very prominent physician in my own county, and I said to him, "What is the state of human health in your region?" He said, "You know, if things go on as they are, we poor doctors are going to be ruined." I asked, "To what do you attribute that?" He said, "All this comes from the present milling extract. Nine-tenths of the people that we doctors had to serve were people suffering from digestive and stomachic complaints. There are hardly any of them to-day," he continued, "thanks to the fact that they are largely eating wholemeal bread, or at any rate bread with the largest possible amount of what is sometimes called 'roughage,' which aids intestinal action." I mention that only by the way; but it makes me a little alarmed when either the Government or the medical profession become a party to trying to improve upon nature, who in her beneficent foresight has provided for human advantage so long as human beings do not attempt to tamper with her by introducing what are called "improvees."
There are several things I should have liked to say, but I feel that I have spoken for long enough. I would, however, urge the Government and its critics to adopt some sense of proportion in these matters. I do not think it helps our cause—I say "our" cause because on the general principle I associate myself with Lord Hankey and Lord Teviot—to make extravagant claims. I have tried for the last half-century to fight extravagant claims on the part of those who claim to be able, by some new means, to raise 100 per cent. more food from the soil of the country than anyone has ever produced before. I remember that about ten years ago it was suggested that we did not want any more cereal crops: that we should be able, by the application of suitable chemicals to timber, to produce from the 833 cellulose of timber all the starchy food we should require in days to come. Claims of that sort make me, as I say, a little alarmed.
I will not say any more on that subject. I will close with a few words on the possibility, ultimately, of sprays seriously affecting the morbid condition of human beings. Four years ago I presided over the Second International Congress of Crop Protection and I was very much alarmed by evidence given by delegates from parts of the United States on the possible effects, particularly on children, of drinking milk from cattle that have been grazed in orchards where certain sprays had been used as insecticides to preserve the fruit. I think the time has come when we should have an impartial investigation of the whole of this problem by a body composed of the medical fraternity, on the one side, and the Government, on the other—by people who can speak with much greater assurance than has been shown hitherto.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD BOYD-ORR
My Lords, this subject has already been well debated but there are one or two words which I should like to say. Having spent the greater part of my life in research on this subject, it is a great gratification to me that your Lordships have shown so much interest in it. I should like to say Low much I appreciate the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, that nutrition is by far the most important factor in health. The food we get is the most important thing in determining health. We have ample proofs of that. When we compare the health of the women and children of this country as it was in the years before the war, in the 1930's, with what it is to-day, we find a remarkable improvement; infant mortality has gone down; and so has stillbirth; and the teeth of the children are better. It is interesting and important to note that this great improvement was made during the war, when there was in this country a food shortage and the enemy was at our very gates. I should imagine that other countries did not have the food policy based on the nutritional needs of the people that we had in this country, in spite of the anxieties of the war. The Government of that time ensured that there wore the proper food priorities for 834 special needs. A millionaire in this country at that time could not buy an orange until a child in the slums had one. When we compare, as I say, the health of the women and children of the 1930's with their health to-day we have ample proof that the policy adopted was right, and that a great improvement has been made in this matter of nutrition.
Food in its natural state is the proper food for human beings. Take wholemeal bread, freshly ground. There you have the finest food. In civilised conditions the food of people living in cities has to be transported long distances, and for that purpose has to be processed and preserved. We must see to it that none of these processes or preservatives is such as is likely to cause illness. I have great faith in the Ministry of Health and in the Medical Research Council who are responsible for these things. I believe that they keep all the necessary factors in view. I am not unduly alarmed by some things that have been said to-day. I agree with Lord Horder that it is dangerous to correlate these things without full information. It is true that certain cardiac diseases have increased, but the use of electricity has increased; you might correlate the one with the other: you might correlate one thing with anything else. But the state of the health of the people in this country in the 1920's, when more than 20 per cent. of the children in cities were suffering from rickets, or scurvy, when women were suffering from anæmia to an alarming extent, has improved enormously; these things have all but disappeared.
Let us beware of too easy generalisations, of reaching conclusions until the subject has been thoroughly investigated. I believe that the proper people to investigate these matters are people who can bring together all sorts of information bearing on the subject. They would be disinterested people, able to put forward the facts; and, having got the facts together, to act. It would be a good thing to have nutrition experts, but it would also be a good thing to have some of the other experienced men and women who are accustomed to weighing evidence. Efficiency experts are apt to be carried away by enthusiasm for their own subject. If my suggestion were adopted, it would eliminate this difficulty.
835 There is one more point that I would make. There is no doubt, as I have said, that the people of this country have greatly improved in health, due to the policy of the Government during the war, and since, and we want to make sure that the progress is continued. Two things are important. The first is that we should ensure that the war-time policy is continued and that the special nutritive value foods are available to the poorest persons in the country. The second thing is that we should be producing more of our own fresh food. In a world of great uncertainty, in peace or in war, we are still importing more than half the food we eat. We have to pay for that food by exports. We are in a vulnerable position, and I suggest that we should try to set the target at 75 per cent. healthy home-produced foods, instead of only 60 per cent. above the pre-war figure by 1956.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, I amsure that the House and the country ought to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for initiating this discussion. After all, the two things upon which the well-being and the prosperity of this country depend are its natural resources and the health and well-being of its population. I agree entirely with what has been said by the noble Lord who has just spoken: that nutrition is a primary factor in the health of the population, and that what we ought to aim at, so far as possible, is that the people should be able to get good natural food, which has not been subjected to processes of storage and chemical manipulation. At the present moment, there is hardly an article of food which can be obtained which has not been stored for long periods, or heat-treated, or subjected to chemical treatments of some kind or another. It is not merely a case of chemical treatment of bread, which is very important, but chemical treatments which affect nearly every article of diet. These treatments commence from the time when the seed is put into the ground, when it has been treated with some kind of disinfectant, and continue during its growth when the soil has been treated with artificial fertilisers which are capable of affecting the nutritive qualities of the plant, with 836 the use of insecticides and fungicides, leaving residues upon the edible portion of the crop which ultimately reaches the consumer; the use of more chemicals during the storage of grain—for example, in order to prevent it from becoming infested with weevils or other creatures. Then there are the processes to which it is subjected during preparation as a foodstuff and the admixture of synthetic chemicals of various kinds which have no nutritive value and are potentially dangerous to human health.
Noble Lords may have noticed a case which was reported in the newspapers not long ago, in which the city analyst of Birmingham analysed some meringue mixtures and meringue powders, and he found that they were synthetic products. One of them was composed of methyl cellulose, an artificial product made from cotton which has no nutritive value whatsoever. It was being sold, with the assent of the Ministry of Food, as a meringue powder, and being bought by innocent people in the belief that it had some nutritional value. That, perhaps, is an extreme case, because there was apparently nothing of any use whatsoever to the human body in any of this preparation; but there are many other cases in which substances are being admixed into food which have little or no food value and the effects of which upon the human body are, so far, quite unknown and untested.
It is important for the House to know what is being done about these matters by the various Ministries concerned with them. It is understood now that quite a number of committees are engaged on investigations into various aspects of these matters—the effect of the use of chemicals in agriculture, and what result they have upon the food which is produced with their use—and I believe that there is a committee which is investigating the use of other chemicals which are being put into foodstuffs. I hope that there will be published not merely a report containing opinions but a factual report which will reveal to the public what the extent of these practices is, what kinds of articles are being used in order to manipulate food and what are the possible results upon human health. There has been sitting for some years in the United States a Committee of Congress which has published four very 837 bulky volumes of evidence given to it, for the most part, by men of science who have been devoting a great deal of research and attention to these problems. The net result undoubtedly is extremely alarming. Many substances have come into use in the United States which have been shown by medical research to be positively detrimental and poisonous. Some of them were found to be acutely poisonous. Others were found to be cumulatively poisonous as the result of partaking of very small quantities spread over a very long time. This is an aspect of the matter which needs the most serious attention.
It is all very well to say, as it is said, that nobody has so far been proved to have been poisoned by the use of agene as a bleacher for flour. That may be so; but what requires to be proved is that nobody has suffered any injury to health as the result of using flour so treated over a period of twenty, twenty-five or thirty years, because articles like bread are consumed by the populace from earliest childhood to the last days of life. What has to be taken into account is what the possible cumulative effect of these things is. I admit that it is often not very easy to determine what that effect is, because so many other factors are affecting human health, as well as that particular one. It is not possible to use human beings as research animals and to feed them exclusively upon some special diet of that kind in order to find out what the result is, but we have to be guided in these matters by probabilities.
Although it may be true, in the case which has been discussed extensively this afternoon, that nobody has proved that agene in bread has killed anybody, it is at any rate true that a number of medical men have discovered ill-effects upon human beings as a result of its use and it certainly ought to be the case that the onus of proof should be placed upon those who want to put things of that kind into food to show that they are absolutely harmless, instead of the onus being thrown, as it is at the present moment, upon the unfortunate consumer to show that he has been injured by it. It is beyond the power of the consumer, and it is also getting to be beyond the power of the public health authorities in this country, because this matter is so subtle and so complex and there are so many different 838 chemicals now being introduced into foodstuffs. The resources of the ordinary public health department of a local authority are not equal to dealing with the research which is required in order to detect the ill-effects of such substances when consumed in very small quantities over a long period.
So I renew the plea which I made upon a previous occasion, that there should be set up in this country some central and impartial organisation, entirely free from trade interests of every kind whatsoever, which will devote itself to protecting the health of the public from these dangers in the kind of way that, in the United States, the Federal Food and Drug Authority has done for many years. This is doubly important because the speed at which new chemicals are being devised and introduced into food substances is extremely alarming. There is hardly anything that one consumes which may not be affected, either intentionally or incidentally, because treatments are applied in storage in order to prevent a fungal attack upon foodstuffs, and so on, which may leave poisonous residues upon the food—not introduced as part of the food, but accidentally, and in relatively small quantities; but still nobody knows the ultimate result upon the human body.
Many years ago, that great wit and humanist, Sidney Smith, denouncing the penal taxation which was in operation in his day, described how from the child's whipping his taxed top to the old man lying in his taxed shroud in his taxed coffin, the population was being oppressed by taxes. If Sidney Smith were alive today he might draw a picture of the average person in this country consuming his dyed kipper or his dyed haddock in the morning, his breakfast food which has been tortured out of all recognition from the wheat which was its original source, his coffee which is adulterated with chicory, and so on through the whole gamut of his diet from morning to eve.
That brings me to point out another field of inquiry in this matter which, so far as I know, has not been investigated at all—namely, what is the effect upon the human body of mixing so many chemicals of different kinds in different foodstuffs. Do they have some reaction upon each other? It is very hard to say. We know that many subtle changes can take place in foodstuffs as a result of the 839 application of comparatively small quantities of highly active chemicals. Agene is a typical example because it has now been proved, as has been published by the Medical Research Council, that it combines with some elements in the protein of the wheat and forms a definitely poisonous compound. Again, it is true that nobody has been proved to be killed by it, but every kind of warm-blooded animal on which it has been used experimentally has shown ill effects and, very frequently, fatal results.
It is all very well for noble Lords to pooh-pooh this idea. Let me ask the noble Lord, Lard Horder, what is the Medical Research Council doing with its expenditure of hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of pounds a year in researches, many of which are conducted upon test animals, if no deduction whatsoever is going to be drawn from them as to the effects of certain things upon the human body? If that proposition is true there is room for a very large economy in the public expenditure upon medical research, and the sooner it is made the better. Those who think that that is the way to find out the truth must accept the consequences of the deductions which can be drawn from it.
My Lords, I do not want to be purely critical. I want to try to make some constructive suggestions in regard to things which could and in my view ought to be done in order to safeguard the health of the public and the purity of the food supply. In the first place, I think (and this is the law in quite a number of countries) that all articles sold as foodstuffs should be labelled to show clearly what substances are contained in them. This requirement ought to extend not merely to those substances which are expressly introduced with the idea of their being consumed, but also to those chemicals which are used for purposes of processing, such as bleaching or otherwise. That should be disclosed upon every package in which an article of food so treated is sold.
Many countries do impose this requirement, and in his valuable book, The English Complaint, Dr. Franklin Bicknell has given a most interesting illustration. Apparently the Egyptian Government impose this kind of obligation upon the sellers of food and require the exact in- 840 gredients to be stated upon the container. Some friends of Dr. Bicknell sent him from Egypt some English biscuits which, in order to comply with the law there, the manufacturers had labelled with the ingredients which had been used to make them, and by this means it was discovered what kind of things were put into them. This is the list: deodorised coconut oil, deodorised palm kernel oil, deodorised peanut oil, palm kernel stearine, powdered milk, dried egg, pectin, citric acid, oil of lemon, spirits of wine and, in addition, five kinds of artificial flavouring and four kinds of colouring matter.
Is it not right that the people of this country should have that information? It has been said that they like to have their food "sophisticated." It has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Horder, that flour has to be treated with agene, or subjected to some other process, in order to render it acceptable to the public. But the public, unfortunately, have not the least notion of what these treatments are, or what this flour and many other articles of consumption contain. The public have a right to know, and manufacturers who introduce into foodstuffs things which are not naturally present in them ought to be under obligation to disclose them. I am not in favour of compelling the people of this country to eat one thing or another, but I am in favour of their knowing what it is they are eating. That is the first suggestion which I have to make.
The second is that it ought to be a presumption of law that all artificial additions made to food are injurious unless the contrary is proved. At the present moment, the onus of proof is imposed on the consumer or upon the public health authority to show that the article is injurious. As I have pointed out, this has now got beyond the resources of the public health authorities: they have not the equipment or the organisation necessary to deal with the complexities of this problem and the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of chemicals which nowadays are being introduced into food. Therefore, as is done in quite a number of other civilised countries, the obligation ought to be thrown upon the person who produces or sells foodstuffs containing such additions to prove that they are entirely harmless. Indeed, so far as I am concerned I would go further than that, and 841 say that the obligation ought to be thrown upon him to prove that these additions or treatments are beneficial before they should be allowed at all.
Thirdly, for my part, I should like to see enacted a prohibition upon the substitution of artificial substances for natural foodstuffs. I have given an illustration of the substitution of something which has no nutritive value whatsoever for a natural product of the highest value, and there are other illustrations which could be given. It is now becoming quite common to use various substitutes for natural fats, especially in the baking industry. In the United States it has gone an enormous distance, and hundreds of millions of pounds weight of these substitutionary articles are being used in place of the lard and other natural fats which were formerly used by bakers. Recently, the United States Federal Food and Drug Agency has prohibited the use of one of these things, polyoxyethylene stearate. It was demonstrated to be a positive cause of serious illness, and after a long battle this decision has been confirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States.
But what of a comparable character is happening in this country? What is being done here in order to ensure that there is some legal protection of the food supply of the population? This is a very serious matter, and it requires to be dealt with quickly. The ingenuity of the manufacturers and of the chemists is quite outrunning the vigilance of the State and the local authorities, and unless this is stopped at the source it is difficult to see what the ultimate result upon the public health can be. I know very well that, in some respects, there has been a great improvement in public health, especially, I think, in the case of children, owing to their being able to get a more generous diet, particularly a larger supply of milk. But do not let us lose these benefits at the other end of life by feeding the population on foods which are being denatured by the abstraction from them of some of their most valuable constituents—this applies particularly to flour—and which have been treated, flavoured and otherwise manipulated by chemicals, the action of which is, in fact, entirely unknown.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I promise that I will not speak for long, as I know there are still a number of other noble 842 Lords who wish to say a few words in this debate. Some of the previous speakers are considerably older than I am, and I should like to compliment them, because whatever may be the type of bread or unadulterated foods they have consumed during their lives they are certainly a great advertisement for them. My experience has been that it is almost impossible to discuss the question of the national loaf without engendering a good deal of heat. Holders of one particular point of view tend to regard their opponents as either lunatics or criminals. There is no possibility of compromise, so far as I can see. Now I cannot believe that the millers and bakers of this country deliberately wish to sell to the general public bread which is injurious to health. After all, they want to sell as much bread as possible, like the manufacturers of any other article. So let us consider the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, calmly and dispassionately.
Before your Lordships can properly appreciate the use of nitrogen trichloride—or agene, as it is commonly called—I think it is necessary to understand the purpose of flour improvers generally. Other noble Lords have already touched on this matter, and I wish to add only a little to what they have said. If freshly milled flour is stored under suitable conditions for a long period it matures. It undergoes, quite naturally, physical changes as a result of the effect of the oxygen in the air. This matured flour is preferred by the baker for two reasons. First, it produces a more stable arid elastic dough, which will make better bread. The importance of a stable and regular dough to the baker is considerable: he needs a dough which he is certain will produce a good loaf under predetermined conditions. In this country, it must be remembered, we use wheats from all over the world, which vary greatly in their characteristics. But though the miller's raw materials are constantly varying, his flour must not vary. For the baker to have a dough one week which behaves in one way with regard to bread making and the following week have a dough behaving in a completely different sort of way would make his task much more difficult. So re-emphasise my first point: the baker must have matured flour to bake efficiently.
843 The second reason why the baker must have matured flour is that wheat flour, when freshly milled, has a distinctly yellow tint. Some noble Lords may think it wrong, but the public, as I know from my own experience in the industrial areas in the north of England, almost demand white bread. Therefore, naturally, the baker wishes to bake with white flour, and it has been found that during storage the oxygen in the air removes the natural yellowish tint. I am afraid it is commercially impracticable for millers and bakers (and this is not peculiar to the United Kingdom) to provide the enormous storage facilities which would be needed for maturing all the flour consumed in this country. The cost of such storage would be reflected in the price of the loaf and would add further to the cost of living, which I am sure none of us would desire. I do not think that point has been considered at all so far in this debate. So, at the beginning of the century, what we now call "improvers" began to be used, which achieved the same results as storing in regard to the baking qualities and colour of the flour. The Committee appointed under the chairmanship of Sir Wilson Jameson by the Ministries of Health and of Food to report on the question of flour treatment stated in January, 1950, as follows:The Committee was, however, satisfied that if a loaf acceptable to the general public is to be produced in this country some form of 'improver, must continue to be used to safeguard its baking quality.So much for the reasons for the necessity of improvers.
For the moment, I should like to talk about agene itself, which, according to my information—and here I must differ from the noble Lord, Lord Horder—has been in use in this country since 1923. The case against agene is based on the effect on dogs of their being fed very large quantities of flour treated with agene. In this regard, I should like to say that it has been shown that if dogs are fed on normal quantities of flour treated with agene, no harmful results follow. Surely we can agree that things which are good or bad for dogs are not necessarily good or had for human beings. For instance, dogs have no need for vitamin C in their food: they can manufacture it themselves. On the other hand, for human 844 beings vitamin C is a necessity for good health. In our normal diet there are many substances which we consume beneficially, such as salt, but if they are taken in very large quantities they will have disastrous results, as we all know. Iodine and copper are essential to humans: arsenic is a tonic, but large quantities are not recommended.
From all I have read, there is no evidence that the consumption of bread from flour treated with agene has had any harmful effect on human beings. As the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has said, it is still used in Eire, Holland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Italy and Sweden, all pretty sensible countries, and all civilised countries. It is perfectly true that the United States have recently switched over to using a new improver, chlorine dioxide. It is readily available, and my information is that so far it has escaped any whispering campaign. Having been present here this afternoon since the debate started. I shall have to change my view on that, as strong attacks have been made on it. Many millers in this country have followed suit in using chlorine dioxide, as some sections of the public have been disturbed by the alarmist stories circulating about agene.
I feel sure that the milling industry is more than willing to follow official recommendations as to what types of improvers they should use, and only awaits the results of the research which is being carried out, and has been carried out for some time, by the Ministry of Health and the Medical Research Council. I do not think the milling industry has any prejudice in favour of agene, in particular, as an improver, but I know it is confident that agene is in no way injurious to the health of the people of this country. Here I should like to quote again the Report of the Committee under Sir Wilson Jameson, who said exactly the same thing:The Committee has been unable to find any evidence that agenised flour is in any way toxic to man; experiments carried out both in this country and in the United States have failed to produce any toxic symptoms, even when heavily-treated flour has been fed at a high level.The Report goes on to say:In the meantime, the public can be assured that the present methods of the treatment of flour, which have been in operation in this country, the United States and Canada 845 for some 25 years, and which include agenisation, have not been proved to be injurious in any way to human health.Yet some noble Lords talk about agenised bread poisoning the public. The millers, I feel sure, will follow any advice given by Her Majesty's Government, and I look forward eagerly to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is going to say to us later in the debate. But I hope that we shall continue to approach this problem sensibly and calmly, and not talk about agene being responsible for such things as the increase in diseases of the heart. I have heard industrial unrest mentioned, and even fluctuations of the birthrate. Your Lordships may not credit it, but statistics have been seriously advanced linking agene with such widely differing examples of human activity.
§ 5.29 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to join with noble Lords who have already spoken in this debate in congratulating my noble friend Lord Teviot for initiating it. He made a splendid opening speech. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Hankey, who followed him. As I saw it, the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, pointed out that if the food chemist, in his desire to produce only attractive and easily selling food, is allowed to acid other substances to our staple articles of diet, without regard to the chemical or biochemical reactions which may take place, harm will result. I myself feel that the food chemist has too much power. This fact is made evident by many eminent people, notably that well-known medical scientist, already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Han-key, Sir Edward Mellanby, one-time secretary of the Medical Research Council. On many occasions, and especially in his recent Sanderson-Wells Lecture, he warned us:No use of chemicals"—in food—should be countenanced if they have harmful effects on animals.Surely, Sir Edward is right, since our body chemistry is essentially the same as that of the animals. Your Lordships will recollect that Sir Edward made his historic experiment on dogs, which has been referred to on several occasions in this debate, some time ago. The Ministry of Health, while admitting that agenised 846 bread kills animals, said in a recent Parliamentary Answer that there is no evidence to show that "the amount likely to he eaten at any one time by humans will produce a similar effect."
Several names have been mentioned in regard to research into these matters, and I should like to mention two persons from the medical side who have done a lot of work in this direction. One is a Dr. Coughlan of Hull, who maintains, after experiments, that bread now contains a toxin or toxins injurious to the heart. Agene, as has already been pointed out, was introduced into this country in 1921. Statistics for death from heart disease from 1914 to 1921 show a steady rate at about 66,000 per annum. In 1921 the figure started to rise, until by 1952 it had reached the appalling total of over 200,000 per annum. It is obvious that some cardiotoxic factor came into operation in 1921, which was the date when agene was introduced. But it is interesting to note that in 1940, when large numbers of men were in the Forces, the curve fell off; and one might assume that, as the men in the Forces were fed on non-agenised bread, that might be the reason for that falling off.
Another doctor who has worked on this problem is Dr. Badenoch of Edinburgh. He maintains that the agenised loaf is a contributing factor to the incidence of peptic ulcers. He gives many examples, and submits that theætiological factors concerned in peptic ulcers are strain and modern urbanised diet, notably the use of agenised bread as a principal source of carbohydrate.
Perhaps when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, comes to reply, he will state whether he agrees that chemical adulterants other than agene leave the food with which they are mixed chemically unaltered. However, agene is different, since it produces, and specifically aims at producing, a chemical change in the wheat protein. All your Lordships are agreed that the question of food, its chemical manipulation and production, is of an order of importance that cannot be exaggerated. It is more vital to our future than anything. The Medical Research Council, and eminent medical scientists who have already been mentioned, have warned us again and again that we are on the wrong road. More research is needed. Yet we have no highly developed 847 research laboratory, the equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. One wonders why. The increase in nervous and mental diseases has been stressed often enough in your Lordships' House, to-day by my noble friend Lord Horder, and on other occasions. Some of your Lordships will agree with me that the use of agene produces a toxic and serious effect. Then, the human tendencies of to-day—the combination of apathy and irritability, the mounting figures of violent crime, cruelty to children, adolescent delinquency, and behaviour disorders of children—are to be expected. In conclusion, I beg to urge again, with all the force at my command, as I have had the privilege of doing on previous occasions during debates of a similar nature, that the Government will agree to the setting up of a Royal Commission to go fully into this matter.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the wording of the Resolution which has not yet been moved. I venture to hope that the Resolution will be moved, because most noble Lords have spoken to it, and it will then draw the cloak of order over a disorderly condition, even more disorderly than your Lordships generally permit. The wording of the Motion is:That Her Majesty's Government should reconsider the use of agene in flour for human or animal consumption.I do not see how the noble Lord who is going to speak for the Government can possibly oppose that Resolution. If he does so, he will be committing the Government irrevocably and forever to the use of agene. Even my noble friend, Lord Horder, who spoke to some extent in opposition. to my noble friend Lord Hankey, went so far as to say, in answer to the question of my noble friend Lord Teviot, if I heard him aright: "I hope that if and when agene can be replaced by a physical process making bread equally acceptable to the public, agene will be discarded." In those circumstances, the Government cannot possibly nail their flag to the mast of agene, which they will do if they resist this Motion.
What does "reconsider" mean? It means "to go on considering." If my 848 noble friend had wanted them here and now to forbid agene, he would have said so. "Reconsider" means only "to go on considering" and, in the circumstances, I do not see any course open to the Government except to accept the Resolution, with the proviso that they will go on doing what I am sure they are already doing—namely, giving full consideration to the whole question.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
My Lords, my noble friend, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has called attention to the fact that the Resolution of the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has not been moved. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, formally moved his Motion either.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I am always ready to be corrected. It is to the Motion of my noble friend, Lord Teviot, that I propose in a few brief remarks to address myself. I do not think that in this matter we should jump at conclusions. Without medical knowledge, I am not prepared to assume that industrial strife, cardiac disease and other misfortunes of mankind can be attributed to our diet. While I eat agenised bread I am not personally conscious of mental depression, though I am conscious of a great number of frustrating and vexatious matters which might induce in me a number of disorders, quite apart from any food that I might take. But I do feel that in this broad matter of our food we are put upon our inquiry. I believe there are two basic facts from which we cannot escape and which justify us, not only in making inquiry into this problem, but in being uneasy. The first fact is that almost every article of food we touch or eat is adulterated in some way or another. It has foreign substances added to it, or contains chemicals, if that is the right word to use. If we take the breakfast table, we find the apple has been gassed, the kipper has been dyed, the marmalade is coloured and the margarine is tinged with dyestuffs—Unilevers's tell us that they put some substance in it to make it a nice orange colour. The noble Lord, Lord Horder, spoke of only one chemical being used. I am not a chemist, and I do not know 849 how "chemical" can be defined. I call aniline dye a chemical. I call putting aniline dye into margarine—
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I do not think he would dispute that chemicals are added to almost everything that is in common consumption to-day. I do not say that that in itself is harmful, or that it has proved to he harmful, but I do take my second basic fact, which is this—and it is also a fact from which there is no escape: that not only has death from cancer markedly increased, but cancer of the stomach exceeds every other form of cancer there is. No other part of the human body is so prone to cancer as the stomach. The other point in connection with disease which I should like to mention is the marked increase in gastric ulcer. When we have those two facts, the adulteration of almost every single thing you eat or drink to-day, coupled with those significant increases in diseases of the gastric tract, then, as I said before, I think we are put upon inquiry. We are entitled to ask what lies behind it all and whether we are taking risks or not. I am sure my noble friend Lord Carrington will not disagree with that.
I much regret that I was unable to put to him before the debate this afternoon the two points which I want to make and, therefore, I do not expect any answer from him. Your Lordships may not feel that these two points are of great substance, but I do not make them in the sense of a dogmatic statement; I make them in a spirit of inquiry. If my noble friend is able to relieve my anxiety, or if the noble Lord, Lord Horder, is able to let me know that my apprehensions are not based on a sound foundation, I shall be grateful. The first question I should like to pose is: Are we running any risk in administering arsenic to turkeys? It is known that on some soils a turkey will die of blackhead unless it is dosed with arsenic. The instructions on the bottle say that the dose must not exceed so much, not because it kills the turkey, but because the bird becomes unfit for human consumption. It further says that the turkey must not be dosed within fourteen days of being eaten. Is it likely that a man who has a thousand turkeys will stop 850 dosing them with arsenic and lose his money? Is he reasonable enough to stop dosing them because the bottle tells him to? Arsenic is a violent irritant poison, cumulative in its effect and traceable in the skin, the hair and the nails of those who have taken it. Is it altogether unreasonable to say that one should be a little careful here? I should be the last to draw any conclusion from one isolated fact, but I have seen a man who had never had any abdominal disturbance in his life but who, after eating what was certainly a large portion of turkey, exhibited what I believe are the symptoms of acute arsenical poisoning. In addition to other symptoms he was vomiting and in a state almost of collapse. Beyond that I cannot go.
The second point I would put to my noble friend is this: is there any danger in the caponising of cockerels by the administration of stilboestrol, an extract, I believe, of the female sex hormone? Here, again, when it is administered one is told that in no circumstances must a bird be eaten for some time, in this case ten weeks. Are the people who sell these birds always so scrupulous? Suppose a bird dies. Suppose the man needs money. Is he going to wait until the ten weeks are up? And what happens to the unhappy buyer if he does not? In any case, if one does wait for ten weeks whatever happens one must not eat the neck, so when one gets a casserole of poulet one can only hope that this part has been omitted.
I have no more to say. I have merely posed these two questions, not expecting from my noble friend, who is always most punctilious, an answer this evening. I should like to congratulate both noble Lords for putting down these Motions—Motions to which I attach the utmost importance. I feel that the House is very much in their debt. I should like to thank them, and I feel confident that the House can rely upon my noble friend Lord Carrington, not only to give close and careful consideration to all that has been said, but to make any possible inquiry that he can to resolve the problems in your Lordships' minds.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I should like to join with my noble friend Lord Buck master in congratulating the noble Lords, Lord Teviot and Lord 851 Hankey, on the way in which they spoke on their Motions. I cannot say that this is exactly a novel subject. We have had three debates on it in under two years, but at any rate I think all your Lordships will agree that we have had a very interesting afternoon.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My noble friend Lord Teviot moved his Motion, and I think I am right in saying that the House cannot discuss two Motions at the same time. When we have disposed of the first Motion, then the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, can, if he wishes, move his Motion.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I should like first to address myself to a part of the Motion to which nobody except the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, has referred at all this afternoon—that is, the request to Her Majesty's Governmentto do everything possible to increase the availability of fresh food…and the furtherance of supply of home-killed food and homegrown food.I should like at the outset to make it quite clear that we fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, about the importance of producing more fresh food, and we are, of course, devoting a great deal of attention and energy to achieving this end. I need not detain your Lordships in examining in detail the many things which the Government are doing to stimulate the production of home produced food. I think all your Lordships will be familiar enough with the measures we are taking, and perhaps I may just mention only one or two salient points.
Before the war, in this country we were producing, in terms of calories, about 30 per cent. of the total supplies of food that we used. Now, in spite of the fact that the population has risen by about 3 million, the proportion of our food which is home-produced has risen to 41 per cent. That is in terms of calories. I think every one in the House will agree that the credit for that should go to the 852 farmers of this country who have produced the food. A feature of this expansion of the agricultural industry which I am sure will please your Lordships is that the chief emphasis has been laid on precisely those products which it is most desirable should be consumed as fresh as possible—that is to say, milk, eggs and meat. These also happen to be the most valuable products, those that are the most important for our national diet and the production of which does most to ease our difficulties in foreign exchange. We are now producing 31 per cent. more milk than before the war, and the proportion of liquid milk which is consumed has risen from 64 per cent. before the war to 82 per cent. this year. Perhaps the most encouraging feature is that the liquid consumption per head is now no less than 62 per cent. above pre-war. On the other hand, processed and canned milk is being used on a very much lower scale.
During the war, we were, of course, forced to allow meat production to fall off considerably, but we have made up a great deal of that leeway. Production of beef and veal is very nearly back to prewar level. Mutton and lamb are not far behind, and the production of pig-meat is no less than 27 per cent. more than it was before the war. Moreover, I think I can say that the prospects of the future seem to be very good. Since the reintroduction of the calf subsidy there have been encouraging increases in the numbers of calves retained, and these calves will begin to affect beef production in two or three years' time. Meanwhile the increase in slaughter weights which the Government are trying to encourage is making up to some extent for the smaller number of beef animals brought forward for slaughter at present as a result of the earlier decline in rearing. Your Lordships will know of the new production drive which my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture launched soon after he took office. As your Lordships know, the object of this drive is to increase our production to at least 60 per cent. above the pre-war figure by 1956. As I have from time to time reported to your Lordships, there appears to be every prospect of achieving our objective, and certainly we have got off to a good start.
Another feature of our home food production is the adjustments which have 853 been made of the seasonal variations in the output of home-produced milk, eggs, and meat. Obviously, if we can manage to spread the production of these perishable commodities more evenly throughout the year, there will be less need to store the food, and more of it can be consumed fresh. By altering the emphasis of prices at different seasons we have considerably increased the proportion of milk and eggs produced out of season, and the percentage of slaughterings occurring in the six months from January to June has been increased from 33 per cent. in 1947 to 37 per cent. in 1952.
It is important that we should all appreciate that these very substantial advances in our farming industry have not been achieved without the help of chemicals. Science has given the farmers a number of substances which, though they may be called artificial, have brought great benefits to the whole community. For example, I think there can be no doubt that our agricultural production has been greatly helped by large increases in the amounts of fertilisers used. I was interested to read an article written by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, in the Journal of the Royal Sanitary Institute, in which he rather poured cold water on the idea of using mineral fertilisers. I do not think many farmers, or many people who have food production at heart, would agree with him. Our farmers have benefited, also, from the help of modern crop protection methods. We now have the dressing of seed with fungicide, often now combined with a chemical which gives protection against wireworm; and the development of herbicides for weed control. All these have become much more widespread in recent years, and I am sure that as a whole we have benefited immensely from them.
I know that Lord Douglas takes a very keen interest in these particular developments, and he will know that the Government also have been watching them most carefully. We are well aware of the potential risks attaching to the use of these and other substances used for the protection of crops. We have had the benefit, in these matters, of the advice of the Working Party under the chairmanship of Professor Zuckerman. In the light of their recommendations we have just passed an Act, as noble Lords know, to ensure the protection of the men who 854 use these substances in the field. The Working Party then went on to examine the possible risk to consumers which might follow from the use of chemicals on growing crops and in food storage. This Report has recently been submitted to the Ministers concerned.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
It has only recently been submitted, and in fact I have not seen a copy. The last one was published, and the Ministers concerned will decide. No doubt they will take note of what the noble Lord says.
Although we have made such strides with our agricultural production, the fact remains that there are a great many people crowded on to this small island, so we must continue to rely on imports for a large proportion of our food supplies. These supplies have to travel a long way before they get to us, so it follows that some special means of preservation must be used for the more perishable foods like meat, dairy products and fruits. Here again, processing plays its part, but the methods used are those which have little or no effect on the nutritive value of the food. For milk, butter and eggs refrigeration is used; for fruits, gas storage; and a variety of products are, of course, canned or dried. It is a fact we cannot escape that without the help of these processes in the shipping of imports our total food supplies would be quite inadequate, in both quantity and variety. This country's population has not only grown in recent years; it has also tended more and more to crowd into the urban areas. In 1851, for example, only about half the population lived in urban areas: now, the figure is something like 80 per cent. Many large cities have grown up, and to supply the right food at the right time for such large concentrations of people presents special difficulties which inevitably entail some degree of processing. I might mention two typical examples of this. The distribution of milk in large cities often involves not only collecting and transporting the milk from far away, but also "bulking" it at collecting depôts and distributing centres. Bulking entails a risk that, if some small quantity of the milk—in a particular churn or from a single farm—is contaminated, the contamination may 855 spread to a very much larger volume of milk. Consequently, for many years now the distributive industry have voluntarily adopted processes of heat treatment, usually pasteurisation. These do not significantly affect the nutritive value of the milk, and they do ensure its safety. I did not notice that any noble Lord this afternoon mentioned anything about pasteurisation, and I do not know whether noble Lords approve or disapprove of it. I should be interested to hear from Lord Teviot whether he thinks it better to have safe milk pasteurised or unsafe milk not pasteurised.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
We should all like that. I do not think the noble Lord would be prepared to say that all the milk from the farms in the country would be absolutely pure.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
I should have thought it would be better to have unpasteurised milk from the herds under the scheme for which the Ministry are responsible for having tuberculin-tested herds. I think that is ideal.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
That is a clever evasion of my point. At present, over four-fifths of the milk drunk in England and Wales, and over three-quarters in Scotland, is voluntarily pasteurised. Legislation has now been passed giving the Government power to specify areas in which all milk sold by retail must either be appropriately heat-treated or be derived from tuberculin-tested herds. Fifteen such areas, covering 45 per cent. of the population, have now been specified in England and Wales, and I hope that all the other major areas will be covered within a few years.
Then we come to the question of the use of improvers in bread making, which has been referred to by several noble Lords this afternoon. This is another example of a special problem arising from the need to feed large urban populations. The use of agene, or nitrogen trichloride, which, as your Lordships know, is a particular kind of improver, has been debated in your Lordships' House a number of times before, but it might be 856 of some help if I were to remind your Lordships of the Government's attitude to this problem. To enable bakers to produce acceptable bread in adequate quantities, and in the limited time available in day-to-day large-scale production, flour needs to be "aged." As natural "ageing" is impracticable on a commercial scale, it has long been the practice in this and many other countries to speed up the ageing process by appropriate treatment. The main point at issue is whether certain evidence which noble Lords have mentioned about the alleged ill-effects of agene is enough to warrant forbidding its use as an improver in bread.
Let me say at once that the Government have no intention of belittling or ignoring the evidence of the effect of agene upon animals, or the other medical evidence which has been mentioned. Indeed, after carefully examining the evidence (I think this will answer Lord Balfour's point) it has been decided to abandon the use of agene as soon as a suitable substitute can be found. However, we do not think that the evidence so far available justifies our preventing the use of agene without knowing what will be the probable effects of the several substitutes which can be used.
It has certainly been shown that flour treated with agene is harmful to certain animals if it is fed to them in large quantities, but until recently there was no reliable evidence at all of harmful effects on human beings. As Lord Hankey pointed out, however, there was published in the Lancet last March a paper which described one case of a human allergic reaction to bread made with flour which had been treated with agene or with chlorine dioxide.
§ LORD HANKEY
Will the noble Lord also deal with the case at the Middlesex Hospital which I quoted—the case mentioned by Pollock? He said that there were so many people involved that they actually stopped the use of agene, in that part of the hospital at any rate.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I have made inquiries about that case and there seems to be a dispute about the facts; but perhaps the noble Lord will speak to me afterwards.
§ LORD HANKEY
I have the documents here. I had much of it checked by an expert to make sure that I was not dropping any bricks.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I may say that I also have checked my facts, very carefully, and the only evidence the Ministry of Food have of any ill-effects is of one case—the case referred to in the Lancet last March. Perhaps at this moment I may emphasise that, in the period of thirty years during which agene has been widely used in this country, this is really the only authenticated case which has been recorded of human allergy associated with agene or chlorine dioxide. As the authors of the paper have themselves pointed out, the question remains:whether this is a rare case of allergy or merely the first recognition of a common disorder.I would remind your Lordships that it is not at all unusual for people to be allergic to all sorts of quite common things. For instance, some people are allergic to strawberries, pollen, cat fur and all sorts of things like that. I do not think that this case of allergy should be considered a cause for alarm, and we do not intend allowing it to force us to take precipitate action.
This point, I may say, was also made in the Lancet's leading article, which the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, quoted earlier in the debate:We still do not want a precipitate decision, which might presently have to be reversed.Joint investigations are now going on into the various alternatives. They are being carried on by the Ministries of Food and Health, and the Medical Research Council, in collaboration with the research associations of the milling and baking industries. These investigations are designed to assess the relative suitability of the various improvers, which include agene, chlorine dioxide, vitamin C and a recently-developed aeration process, to which the noble Lord, Lord Horder, has referred, in which improvement is effected by high-speed mixing. The investigations include studies of any chemical changes produced in the flour's constituents, the effects on the health and growth of experimental animals of feeding them with the treated flours, and assessment of the quality of 858 breads made from treated flours. They also include both small-scale and commercial trials of the vitamin C and aeration processes. The work is being pushed on as fast as possible, but there are difficult problems involved, and if they are to be adequately examined we cannot expect a quick answer.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that our policy in this matter must be based on sound scientific evidence and practical experience. Our investigations should, in time, provide this basis. Meanwhile, I would point out that, for those who prefer to eat bread which has not been treated with agene or chlorine dioxide, bread of that kind can be had on special request I hope that, having regard to what I have said about agene in flour, the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, will be satisfied that when we have discovered a suitable substitute we shall abandon the use of agene.
The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has again taken the opportunity of reminding us of the merits of bread made from flour with a high extraction rate. I may say that the Government also have in mind the need to ensure a supply of bread which will meet the nation's nutritional needs. My noble friend will know that after the war there was a conference on what would be the best ingredients for our post-war bread. It was in the light of the recommendations of that conference that the Government decided what conditions should be imposed after decontrol. I think those conditions go as far as is practicable, and, indeed, as far as is necessary, to meet the nutritional needs of the population. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of these arrangements.
With the removal of controls, the public will again be given a free choice of flour and bread, but the production of a National flour of 80 per cent. extraction will go on, and bread made from this flour will be subsidised. No subsidy will be paid on bread made from flour of lower extraction than 80 per cent. In addition, to combine, so far as possible, freedom of choice with high nutritional standards, the makers of whiter flour will be required to restore to that flour the same amounts of the main nutrients as are present in 80 per cent. extraction flour. The nutrients which will be put back are iron, vitamin B and nicotinic 859 acid. We have restored this freedom of choice because we think that it would be wrong to go on—
§ LORD HANKEY
Would the noble Lord say, for I am sure it would interest many members of the House, whether it will still be permissible for bakers to produce wholemeal bread, as at present?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
We have restored this freedom of choice because we think it would be wrong to go on preventing those who wish to from eating bread which they like better. The only way to keep all the nutrients of the wheat grain would, of course, be to mill 100 per cent. extraction wholemeal flour. The conference on the post-war loaf, to which I have just referred, advised that there were numerous practical objections to making the whole of the flour supply wholemeal. The fact is that most people—although I know my noble friend is an exception—do not like eating wholemeal bread. It is less palatable, there are problems of digestibility, and it does not keep so well. Nevertheless, for those who want them, wholemeal flour and bread are freely available, and in order that those who prefer these are not put at a financial disadvantage, as compared with consumers of National bread, bread made from wholemeal flours will continue to be sold at the same price as National bread. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's question.
§ LORD HANKEY
Yes, but I should like to correct one point—that is, the story that the wholemeal bread will not keep. It keeps perfectly. I believe that it keeps as well as the other bread. I can tell your Lordships that I went to Egypt just before January, and there was wholemeal flour in the house. We never eat anything but wholemeal cakes, and things like that. There had been wholemeal flour in the house since before Christmas. I came back in the second week in February, and that wholemeal flour was still perfectly good. I could give many examples from Spain and other hot countries. I believe that to be just one of the tarradiddles of the trade.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
Those who advise me on this "tarradiddle" disagree 860 strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Hankey. It is the second time that his advisers and mine have clashed. I assure him that my advice is that the wholemeal bread does not keep so well as the National loaf. I cannot take it any further—
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
I may say that I am another witness to this. I get wholemeal bread from a commercial source and it keeps perfectly for a week or more. The ordinary white bread of commerce, as everybody knows, goes stale or mouldy in a day or two; the dustbins of London are full of it.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I am not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Douglas, is supporting the noble Lord, Lord Hankey.
The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, asked me whether it would be possible to put the date of the canning of foods on the tins, so that people would know when the food which they were buying was tinned. I do not think that anything very useful would be achieved by this, because a date stamp of this kind would not be a guide to the condition of the food in the tin. I believe that it is a common practice in the trade for tins to be stamped with a code number which enables the canning firm to trace the date of the canning.
Several noble Lords have suggested that it would be a good idea to have an inquiry into the whole of this question. I myself think that this is a subject which has been, and is being, adequately covered. First of all, we had the Committee on Nutrition of the British Medical Association which issued a full Report in 1950. Then there are various Standing Committees: the Food Rationing Special Diets Advisory Committee of the Medical Research Council, the Food Standards Committee of the Ministry of Food and its sub-committees, the inter-Departmental Committee under the chairmanship of the chief medical officer of the Ministry of Health, the Food Adulterants Committee and, lastly, the working party on Toxic Substances under the chairmanship of Professor Zuckerman to which I have already referred. All these Committees are working and advising the Ministry of Food on the lines which noble Lords have suggested. I should have thought that this plethora of Committees would be quite sufficient.
861 The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, suggested that there should be an obligation on all canners to label their tins with their contents and whatever particular chemicals they had to put in them.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
Well, anybody. There is in force a Labelling of Food Order which does require all pre-packed foods to be labelled with a list of the contents in order of quantity. The only exceptions to that Order are those foods for which standards of composition or those about which regulations have been laid down.
My Lords, during this afternoon's debate a good deal of use has been made of the words "artificial" and "poisonous." I am inclined to be very cautious of those two words. "Poisonous" is a dramatic word but it can be very misleading. Whether or not a substance is poisonous often depends on how it is taken, how much, by whom, and in what form. There are plenty of substances which, if properly used, can do a great deal of good but, if wrongly used, may be harmful or lethal. In fact, any single substance will kill you if you consume enough of it or if you are particularly susceptible to it. Your Lordships may remember that Henry I died from eating a surfeit of lampreys, but I hope nobody would suggest that we should ban the use of lampreys. King John, after his disastrous episode on the Wash, sometime later had dinner at a monastery not far away, and he died from eating, against his medical advisers, wish, too many peaches and drinking too much new beer. My noble friend Lord Teviot and I, if we sat down and drank bottle after bottle of burgundy, would feel very ill next morning, and we should not do ourselves any good—indeed, we might make use of the slot machines at which the noble Lord jeered so much this afternoon and take a couple of aspirins, which would make us very much better. Anything taken to excess can be harmful.
Then, again, I often wonder what products can be truly classed as "artificial." In the final analysis, everything we have comes from some natural source and everything is affected to some degree by the hand of man, so who is to say with any precision what is artificial and what 862 is natural? Certainly, there are chemicals in foods. Some chemicals are in the raw material, some enter the food quite by accident during manufacture or distribution, others are added deliberately. They are by no means all harmful. My Lords, we need more food, better food, and cheaper food, and I do not think we can get those things without the help of science, which must frequently bring with it processing and chemical treatment. If we accept this fact, the only sensible thing to do is to ensure that there is proper protection for the consumers, and I believe that we have a very adequate system of safeguards. Their basis is the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. This, among other things, makes it an offence to add any substance to food so as to render the food injurious to health, and the Act provides powers for preserving or restricting the addition of any substance to any food and for regulating generally the composition of food. We are now considering proposals for a new Food and Drugs Bill partly to strengthen the provisions about the addition of injurious substances.
Then the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations, 1943, which were made under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, also empower the Minister of Food to make orders preserving or restricting the addition of any substance to food and for regulating generally the composition of foods. To provide the Minister of Fond with technical advice as to how he should exercise his responsibility for providing the public with satisfactory food, he has, as I have mentioned, a Food Standards Committee. In addition to the official members, this Committee includes nominees of the Medical Research Council, the Society of Public Analysts, other analytical chemists, and a number of other recognised experts. Subject to a few modifications which were found necessary during the war, some of which are still in force, existing public health regulations prohibit the manufacture and sale of food to which any preservative, other than those authorised by the regulations, has been added. In addition, the Medical Research Council, as I have already said, have a Food Adulterants Committee with the duty of advising the Council about subjects in this field which seem to need more scientific investigation. I have already mentioned the Working Party under Professor Zuckerman. I think your Lordships will agree that the fact 863 that such Committees have been set up and the wide fields which they cover indicate that the Government is well aware of the problems which have been discussed in this debate, that we are doing something about them and that we are determined to secure the best possible advice.
The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, asked me two questions, one of them about stilboestrol for caponising a fowl. I can put his mind at rest about that problem. This has been the subject of research by the Medical Research Council, and I am told that there is no danger whatever in its use. The other question I should like to take back and inform him about, but I think I am right in saying that it is merely a food which contains arsenic and the precautions on the label are to conform with the sale of foods containing arsenic. But I will let him know about that.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I should not like it to appear that Her Majesty's Government are out of sympathy with the terms of Lord Teviot's Motion. I have not said that the Government love chemicals and processed foods and intend to encourage their use. On the contrary, as I hope I have made plain, we intend to go on doing all we can to increase the supply of fresh food. At the same time, as I tried to point out, some processes and the addition of some chemicals are necessary if we are to feed the 50 million people in this country. But with the safeguards I have outlined I do not think there is any cause for disquiet, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, will feel it possible to withdraw his Motion and the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, not to move his.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I first wish to thank my noble friend Lord Carrington for his very lucid reply to the subject I raised in my Motion. There is one matter which he did not refer to but which I will deal with in my short reply, and perhaps he will answer me. I also thank very much indeed all those noble Lords who took part in this interesting debate. I should just like to 864 mention one point with regard to preservers and their effect on animals. I do not know whether the noble Lord who replied for the Government has ever read a very interesting book compiled by Sir Robert MacCarrison who has carried out exhaustive experiments with the white rat, which is, curiously enough, much of the same composition as ourselves. There is no doubt whatever that a white rat is an amiable, nice creature when properly fed, and distinctly bad tempered, very unkind to its young, when fed on processed food. Perhaps the noble Lord will read that book and see what is set out in it.
I was glad to hear what the noble Lord said as to the dates of manufacture. Most of the debate, of course, has revolved around Lord Hankey's Motion, but there is one point I should like to mention in regard to the description of food and what it is made of. We often see stuck up in a shop window the words "cream buns" and "ice cream," but there is no cream in the buns at all. Noble Lords have often sat down and eaten puddings with what has been called "cream" on them. It is not cream at all. I should like to see some tightening-up on that matter. When a commodity is described as cream, I want it to be cream from the cow and from nowhere else—certainly not out of some of the materials that the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to the point which I raised at the end of my Motion, about increasing the amount of home-grown foods. I put that in because if there is an increase in that respect there will be a lessening in the consumption of all these processed and canned foods, a point which, as I explained in my speech, is very much stressed in the Report of the Ministry of Health. With regard to what the noble Lord said about artificial fertilisers, I do not know whether the noble Lord will agree with me, but "artificial" and "synthetic" to me suggest the creation of something that is not alive. I do not believe that any laboratory can produce anything that is alive. Therefore, I am against foods being treated with such things, and against the consumption of synthetic and artificial substances. Whatever they may be, I think that they must be detrimental to one's health generally. 865 I am very glad that the noble Lord has mentioned the Report of Professor Zuckerman's Committee, and to learn that there is to be a further Report. I gather that it is coming out almost at once.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I did answer Lord Douglas of Barloch on this point. I think that the Report has only just been received. I do not know whether my right honourable friend the Minister has yet seen it himself, but I am sure he will take account of what has been said here to-day, and will probably follow the example set in the case of the last Report.
§ LORD TEVIOT
The noble Lord said that I had made no mention of the pasteurisation of milk. Personally, I am all against the pasteurisation of milk. I remember having a discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Horder, some years ago on the general subject of hygiene in its relation to food, and I recall his saying something of which I should like to remind him. He said that it is possible to overdo the protection of the body from infection, in that the resisting powers in one's body, if not used at all, cease to function. So if you do not get little doses, every now and then, of various illnesses, the resistant element in you departs. What happens is much like what occurs in the case of a muscle that is never used—it depreciates.
§ LORD HORDER
I cannot take responsibility for that statement. I cannot remember ever having made that statement, and it is entirely contrary to my view.
§ LORD TEVIOT
I will go a little further and recall this to the noble Lord. He referred to a great friend of his who for a long time after marriage had no child. Then a child was born. The parents did everything they could to protect that child from getting any sort of illness. The result was that when it grew up it caught almost every conceivable infectious illness. When the child grew up, and had to go out in the world, it had an attack of illness after illness so badly that eventually its constitution was undermined and it died.
§ LORD HORDER
I am extremely sorry, but that again does not march with my general views. Therefore it is quite certain that I never said it. I have no doubt that someone said it, and that Lord Teviot heard someone say it. I certainly did not do so. If I may explain just for a moment—
§ LORD TEVIOT
If I have misquoted or misrepresented my noble friend I am very sorry. Still I distinctly remember someone of his eminence telling me that, and I thought it was the noble Lord.
Returning to the subject of the pasteurisation of milk, the noble Lord may recollect an occurrence in a big town—I think it was Belfast. The whole of the milk supply of that town was pasteurised, but suddenly an epidemic of typhoid, or some such disease, broke out. For a while, no one could discover where it had originated. I know that those in favour of pasteurisation will tell you that pasteurised milk tends not to pick up diseases, or microbes, or whatever the right term is, in the way that pure milk is said to do. In this instance, it was eventually discovered that the epidemic was due to the fact that in the pasteurisation plant there was a carrier of this particular disease. Having this information, the authorities were able to stamp out the epidemic.
Now with regard to the subject of bread—nice bread and good bread and all that. To me, flour is 100 per cent. wheat. I grind my own wheat and make the bread immediately afterwards. Again, it was a very eminent physician to whom I put this question—"What is the meaning of the word 'roughage'?" That eminent physician replied that roughage depends purely on how coarsely the wheat is ground. I have my own little grinding mill and it can be set to grind fine, medium or coarse. It is possible to have flour ground to any of those three degrees. If it is ground fine, there is no roughage at all. If you are accustomed to take enormous quantities of medicine, you can have your flour ground medium or coarse, and then you will not want to take any more medicine.
There is one question that I should like to ask Lord Carrington upon a subject on which he did not touch—that is, the question of obviating, so far as possible, 867 the carrying of food over long distances. This is particularly to be deprecated in the case of vegetables. We hear of vegetables being transported from Dorset or Cornwall all the way to London, and then, perhaps, halfway back again before they get on to the tables of the people. I am most anxious that something should be done about this. I believe that something is being done, particularly, in the counties of Kent and Sussex, where food is collected from the farmers and horticulturists in the area, and put into a certain centre to which the greengrocers go and buy all they want. It is only the surplus from these areas that goes to London or the other big industrial areas. I hope the noble Lord will take this matter into consideration. Yesterday I received evidence upon the matter from a gentleman by the name of Mr. Stephenson of the National Farmers' Union. He said that the question of zoning was under consideration. I think this is an important matter and I hope that the noble Lord will look into it.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
Naturally, the fresher the vegetables are when they reach the consumer the better everyone will be pleased. But before one starts compulsory zoning, one must consider carefully whether it is desirable to dictate to growers where they should sell their produce. Of course, a good many green-grocers—I should say almost all—normally obtain much of their supplies from their own districts, but perhaps they find it convenient to draw some part of their supplies from central areas. In general, I think one can say this is helpful in adjusting distribution and supply throughout the country and in maintaining the price position throughout the country.
While I am on my feet I should like, if I may, to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey. I think he misunderstood what I said about Dr. Pollock. I did not mean to intimate that the Ministry had not heard of Dr. Pollock. What I am told is that the paper to which the noble Lord refers was published on July 5, 1950. Dr. Pollock is in charge of the Allergic Clinic of the Central Middlesex Hospital. The paper to which the noble Lord referred does not give the number of patients he tested, the conditions from which they were suffering, or the results, 868 in a quantitative sense, of the withdrawal of agenised flour from their diet. Dr. Pollock calls the paper "A Preliminary Report," but so far as we are aware, there has been no subsequent publication from him on the subject. I think it is felt that on such evidence as this it would be unwise to form any conclusion.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Teviot proceeds, I should like to ask him whether, under his scheme of local collection and distribution, the middleman enters into the scheme at all.
§ LORD TEVIOT
I gather not. From what I was told yesterday, I gather that there is this centre to which farmers deliver and grocers give their orders. There must be some organisation at the centre and naturally one would expect that it has to make a profit, but I understand that the scheme is working quite satisfactorily. I have nothing more to say, except to thank my noble friend most sincerely for what he has said and for the kind way in which he has dealt with all the questions which I have raised. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, it now falls to me to answer the request that was made to me that I should not move my Resolution. When I first arrived at the opinion, an opinion which this debate has not shaken at all, that agene is dangerous, the first draft of my Motion was that agene should be banned. But when I thought it over, I felt that that was not fair to the Government. I did not see how they could possibly decide, with all this research going on. But I do want this matter kept in the forefront of the minds of the Ministers concerned. Before I withdraw my Motion, I should like to be assured that the reply we have had and for which I am most grateful means that the Government will reconsider the use of agene in flour for human or animal consumption. I should like to have that assurance from the noble Lord to put on the records of the House.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance. As I explained in my remarks, we will abandon the use of agene as soon as a suitable 869 substitute is found; and we, have all this research going on. But we do not think we can ban it at the present time, because we have not a suitable substitute and enough knowledge about it Of course we will continue to examine the problem. I will give the noble Lord that assurance.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, but at the same time I am not entirely satisfied that it is really necessary to have a substitute. Nobody has answered my case about the French and many other nations who produce very good bread indeed, and about the pre-agene era, when good bread was produced. I do not believe this thing is necessary at all. Still, I hope it will be re-examined. Will the noble Lord tell us whether he will consider whether agene or some substitute is really necessary to produce decent bread in this country?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I do not think I can go any further to help the noble Lord. In the course of the debate we have pointed out that the use of some improver is necessary in this country to make bread acceptable (I think that is the correct term) to the British public. I think I have gone a long way to meet the noble Lord this afternoon in saying that as soon as the proper substitute for agene is found then we will abandon the use of agene. I do not think I can go any further than I have done.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I have said again and again from 1939 onwards that what we really want is the education of the public on this subject. I am not going to ask the noble Lord here and now to give an undertaking to do that, because it would be a very big, undertaking, but I hope the noble Lord will look into it. In the circumstances, I will do what I am asked and net move my Motion to-day.