"There is Death in the Pot":
The History of Food Fraud

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"There is Death in the Pot": The History of Food FraudEat My Globe
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Food Fraud Episode Notes

In this next episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar, examines food fraud and food adulteration. Since the beginning of records, we see the constant battle between customers buying food and those who attempt to defraud them. The battle has continued right through history to the present day with the methods of fraud becoming ever more sophisticated. But, the aim is always the same: profit.

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TRANSCRIPT

EAT MY GLOBE

“THERE IS DEATH IN THE POT”:

THE HISTORY OF FOOD FRAUD


SIMON:

Hey, April.


APRIL:

Yeah, Simon.


SIMON:

Why did the butcher replace half of the contents of his sausages with bread?


APRIL:

I don’t know Simon. Why did the butcher replace half of the contents of his sausages with bread?


SIMON:

Because he found it hard to make both ends meat.


APRIL:

[Laughter]


SIMON:

Now, see, that’s great.


APRIL:

Oh no.


SIMON:

Oh.


INTRO MUSIC


SIMON:

Hi everybody and welcome to a brand-new episode of Eat My Globe. A podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food.


Each week, as regular listeners know, we take an ingredient, a person, a period, or a region that people will certainly recognize and try to explain its importance in history, and to place it in the context of how we eat today.


Today, we are going to be looking at the history of food fraud and food adulteration.


We are going to look at an aspect of food history that really does cover just about all of man’s time on this planet. Well, certainly since they began to form into communities. It is, as we shall see, an issue that reveals humans at their very worst, looking to fool their fellow humans for the sake of profit, despite the sometimes fatal consequences it would have on those who were on the receiving end of their duplicity. It is a practice that impacts everybody, but is often targeted at the poorest people and can have significant impact on public health.


It has been around from a time when humans first began swapping food for other types of food, goods or services, and someone added chalk dust to flour, or debased a jar of wine with vinegar. Right up to the present day, when, despite increasing and more complex government enforcement, we see ever more sophisticated attempts to alter the food we eat every day. Food frauds are still carried out in an attempt to make cold hard cash.


Seemingly every day, I read about some aspect of food fraud relating to olive oils being sold in markets around the world. Even here in my hometown of Los Angeles, there are reports of inferior fish being sold as their higher priced equivalents at sushi bars across the city.


In the distant past, the purchasing of food was often  treated as a case of “Caveat Emptor” or “Buyer Beware” by governments and administrators. In the Medieval period, however, there were significant attempts to monitor the sales of fraudulent goods, with the foundation of guilds and the enforcements of weights and measures that we will discuss later. it was not until the 19th century that we really began to see a sophisticated understanding of the subject through advances in chemistry and through more coordinated and international attempts at policing.


Whenever they have happened, and however they are dealt with, such challenges can really have a huge impact in the food we have to purchase and eat. So, I think that this is definitely a subject that is due for examination.


That’s right folks. Today, on Eat My Globe, we are going to take a look at the complex world of food fraud, and food adulteration. 


So, buckle up.


BREAK MUSIC


SIMON:

As always on Eat My Globe, let’s begin the episode by clarifying what it is that we are actually going to chat about. John Spink and Douglas C. Moyer, both with the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program for the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University define food fraud as,


Quote

a collective term used to encompass the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product, for economic gain.”

End quote.


Similarly, the European Commission defines food fraud as,


Quote

any suspected intentional action by businesses or individuals for the purpose of deceiving purchasers and gaining undue advantage therefrom, in violation of the rules.”

End quote.


The European Commission further identifies sub-divisions of food fraud that are also worth noting, as they will impact upon our story at different times during the episode. And they are:


Quote

Dilution – Process of mixing an ingredient with high value with an ingredient with a lower value.

Substitution – Process of replacing a nutrient, an ingredient, a food or a part of a food with another one of lower value.

Concealment – Process of hiding the low quality of food ingredients or products.

Unapproved Enhancement – Process of adding unknown and undeclared compounds to food products in order to enhance their quality attributes.

Counterfeits – Infringements to intellectual property rights.

Mislabeling – False claims or distortion of the information provided on the label / packaging.

Grey Market, Forgery – Production, theft, diversion.”

End quote.


Now, I think these definitions are all pretty self-explanatory, with the possible exception of the term, “grey market,” which, attorney Hugh J. Turner, Jr. defines as,


Quote

grey market goods are authentic goods, intended for sale in foreign countries, that are diverted into, and sold in, the United States by persons other than the authorized distributor.

End quote.


So, I think, in applying the definition globally and not just the US, these are goods that are produced at a legitimate processing plant, or recognized local facility but then any excess that is produced to the contracted amount being shipped through the “back door,” as it were, and distributed through an informal market structure. This can be encountered in many markets outside the world of food, such as electrical appliances, drugs, clothing and was even something I encountered regularly during my time in book publishing.


Of these defined subdivisions of food fraud, it’s probably those of “Dilution and “Substitution,” that were first encountered by human kind. In the times of the earliest communities, probably somewhere around 2.6 to 1.8 million years ago, the groups would tend to rest and eat together. I would think there would be little need or reason for food fraud to take place at that time as everything was aimed at the communal good of survival, because the groups were likely small enough that any instances would be easy to discover.


Where we first really begin to see food fraud become obvious is as communities grew and with them grew the increase in commerce. In his article, “A History of the Adulteration of Food Before 1906,” in the “Food, Drug & Cosmetic Law Journal,” the author, F. Leslie Hart, suggests,


Quote

The adulteration of food is as old as commerce itself.”

End quote.


And, in their article, “A History of Government Regulation of Adulteration and the Misbranding of Food,” for the same journal some years later, authors Peter Barton Hutt and Peter Barton Hutt II suggest,


Quote

Protection of the public from fraud in the marketing of food products represents one of the earliest forms of government regulation of commercial enterprise.”

End quote.


It was not just the adulteration of food. Perhaps most interestingly – to me at least – in the formalization of commerce, was the development of weights and measurements, to make sure, or at least try to make sure, that trading was standardized.


Units of Length, for example, in ancient Egypt were measured in “cubits,” or the length from the bend of the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, usually calibrated by a royal master. A single black granite to this exact size could be produced and kept in a central place as a permanent measure, while other replicas could be distributed around the kingdom to provide guidance. The Great Pyramid of Giza can still be measured using the cubit as a measure, which is 440 by 440 cubits, by the way.


Weights were harder to calibrate, but could be based on an item, such as the seeds of plants, which to all intents and purposes are almost identical. This includes the carob, from which, we have one of those great facts that we like to give you to bore people with at dinner parties we know you love so much, we derive the word “carat” or “karat” with a “k” the measure still used to denote gemstones and gold.


Initially, in ancient Rome, the weight could be measured using the standard “as,” which equates to 4,210 grains, and later to the standard “denarius,” which equates to 70.5 grains. The ancient Romans used silver to replicate the equivalent of different weights of grains.


And in another fun fact, if you put together 6 denariuses or denarii, it comes to an “uncia,” or an “ounce” – which is the equivalent of 423 grains, or if you put together 72 denariuses or denarii or 5,076 grains, it would come to a “libra” or what we call a pound, for which we use the initial, “l” “b,” libra. And so if you’ve ever looked at a recipe that calls for a pound of an ingredient and wondered why the abbreviation for a pound is “lb,” now you know – it is an abbreviation of that Roman word, “libra.”


Now, back to food fraud.


With these weights and measures, we begin to see some of the first issues of food fraud. In ancient times, composites of these metal standard weights can be distorted to alter the weight of a product, so much so that even the bible prohibits it.  In his work on food fraud in ancient times, F. Leslie Hart points us in the direction of Deuteronomy chapter 25 verses 13-15,


Quote

Do not have two differing weights in your bag--one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house--one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

End quote.


So, we begin to see evidence of laws of food regulation appearing almost as soon as we begin to find evidence of the written word. And, while not all of them contain specific regulations about food fraud or adulteration, they do show that regulating how food was farmed and sold was vital to every civilization.


The Code of Hammurabi, is one of the oldest legal documents known to exist, and consists of 282 laws, proclaimed by the King of the same name who reigned in Mesopotamia between 1792 to 1750 BCE. A stele on which these laws had been carved was rediscovered in 1901, and its cuneiform inscriptions gave an incredible insight into the life of the ancient Mesopotamian world. Of particular interest to us, is law number 108, which relates to the consumption of beer, that vital drink that was part of the regular diet of ancient men, women and children and provided in ration in quantities that depended on their social status.


Quote

If a tavern-keeper (feminine) does not accept grain according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the grain, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.”

End quote.


I’m not sure but this law must be one of the earliest references to pouring beer in short measure for cash instead of grain, which as we mentioned above, could be weighed and measured against the beer with which they were supplied.


Guilty parties were subject to execution by drowning. A tough punishment indeed, but as a person who is convinced that he was served many short pours during his days as a student in 1980s London, it seems rather fair to me.


We also see mentions of food fraud in the literature of the early dynasties of China. In “The Institutes” of Chou, which was written in the second century BCE, we see codes suggesting that market supervisors had agents whose task was to stop the producing of adulterated products and the defrauding of customers. And during the Tang Dynasty, which lasted from 618 to 907 CE, the law also offered guidance to punishments to be meted out to those who transgressed the regulations,


Quote

When dried or fresh meats cause men to become ill, all the left-over portions should be speedily burned. The violator will be flogged 90 strokes. He who deliberately gives or sells it to another will be banished for a year, and if the person to whom it has been given or sold dies, the offender will be hanged.”

End quote.


In Indian writings, too, we see that sophisticated laws were being put in place that covered all aspects of society, including the regulations of commerce and a punishment for those who broke them. According to the 2nd book of the “Arthashastra,” a document on states craft likely written between 350 and 275 BCE,


Quote

Grains pure and fresh shall be received in full measures; otherwise a fine of twice the value of the grains shall be imposed.”

End quote.


And,


Quote

If there is any diminution in weight owing to the use of a false balance, they shall give eight times the diminution.”

End quote.


We also see mention of food adulteration in the works of Theophrastus, who lived in ancient Greece from 370 to 287 BCE, and is described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as a “Peripatetic Philosopher,” a title I would rather like to apply to myself. Theophrastus and Aristotle were colleagues and travel buddies, and Theophrastus even succeeded Aristotle at the Lyceum, which is a school of philosophy in Athens founded by Aristotle. Theophrastus wrote many major works, including the books,  “Enquiry Into Plants” and “On Odours.”


In both of these works, he talks about food adulteration. In “Enquiry Into Plants,” he talks about a kind of earth that,


Quote

which when sprinkled over the seed helps to make wheat keep……this makes the grain inferior for food, but fuller in appearance.”

End quote.


And in “On Odours,” he discusses the artificial flavoring of wine. Although, he does believe that this is not only to simplify the procedure, but also, motivated by what he calls,


Quote

A pleasanter taste.”

End quote.


If the ancient Greeks were concerned about food fraud and food adulteration, the ancient Romans very definitely took the subject to heart. This is hardly surprising for an empire which at its peak not only housed a population of over a million people in the greater urban area of the city of Rome. And, an empire for whom trade across its territories and with its neighbors was not just hugely profitable, but also vital if they were to thrive. And, an empire that spent nearly 70% of its yearly budget on supplying its army, with weapons and, of course, rations. In many ways, the status of a Roman person could be determined by the access they had to food and what that food was.


Amongst the goods imported by Rome were luxury food items which included spices from India, and also vital food items, such as olives, fish, meat, and grain. Grain supply was so important that it had its own specific official in charge of it known as the “Praefectus Annonae.” Olive oil and wine were also vital to the daily life of Rome, and a complex series of regulations was kept in place, not only to secure consistency of delivery, but also the quality and weights & measures of the goods acquired. Using false weights and measures were considered a civil offense called, “stellionatus,” which was a wide ranging civil law on fraud that also included food adulteration. People who broke these laws could be subject to temporary exile or even banishment to the mines.


The laws didn’t always deter people, however. Through the work of archeologists, and through reading ancient Roman literature, we can see many examples of potential food fraud.


In the remains of the unfortunate city of Pompei, which was destroyed on August the 24thin 79 CE by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, a loaf of bread was found that had been marked with a bronze stamp that read,


Quote

celer, slave of quintus granius versus.”

End quote.


These marks had two purposes. One was to identify the maker of a loaf of bread in the times when few people had individual ovens and bread was cooked in a community oven. And for our purposes, more importantly, was to identify the maker so if the bread was shown to be adulterated, or underweight, it could be traced back to the bakery and a punishment could be issued.


Later, in 438 CE, Emperor Theodosius II issued a single volume or “codex” of the laws of his predecessors. In this book, known as the “Codex Theodossianus” or the Theodosian Code, there are regulations for bread to be sold in public, literally on the steps of a building so there could be no suggestion of fraud on such a vital and potentially contentious staple.


Quote

In order that no fraud at all may arise with reference to the step bread, We command that if anything is doled out to the people, it shall be served publicly on the steps and not secretly by the breadmakers.”

End quote.


Wine was also not an unusual item to be adulterated. This was done in many ways using aloe, water, herbs, smoke and even sulfur.


In the 18th book of his mega tome, “The Natural Histories,” Pliny the Elder, to whom some have given the title Rome’s first wine critic, notes


Quote

Wine that has been mellowed by the agency of smoke is extremely unwholesome – a fraudulent method of preparation that has been invented in the wine-lofts of the retail dealers. At the present day, however, this plan is adopted in private families even, when it is wished to give the appearance of maturity of wines that have become carious.”

End quote.


And,


Quote

the morals of the age being such, that it is the name only of a vintage that is sold, the wines being adulterated the very moment they enter the vat. Hence, it is, by Hercules! – a thing truly astounding – that, in reality, a wine is more innoxious in its effects, in proportion as it enjoys a less extended renown.”

End quote.


In his work, “On Agriculture,” Cato the Elder discusses a method to find out if the wine you have has been watered down.


Quote

If you wish to determine whether wine has been watered or not: Make a vessel of ivy wood and put in it some of the wine you think has water in it. If it contains water, the wine will soak through and the water will remain, for a vessel of ivy wood will not hold wine.”

End quote.


However, despite these rules and regulations, the Roman’s view of food adulteration outside of its impact on that “regular supply of food at reasonable prices” approach that I mentioned earlier seems to have been very much of that “Caveat Emptor” or “buyer beware” approach.


Moving on to the period that we refer to as the “Middle Ages” that is the period following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE and about the 14thcentury, roughly the beginning of the period known as the Renaissance, records of food fraud was ongoing.


This period marks a huge expansion of trade and the diversification of goods.


As this trade became more diversified, merchants who controlled trade and then later, craftsmen, who made goods, began to form trade related guilds. In Medieval England, for example, they were often formed by a royal charter. The city of Paris in France alone had over 100 guilds, while the entire country of Britain also had over 100 guilds. Not all of these, of course, related to food, but the inclusion of key craftsmen such as bakers and brewers show how important they were.


The term, “guild,” comes from the Saxon word, “to pay” or “to yield,” and the guild expected members to pay towards the organization’s finances. While the primary reasons for their creation was to increase the influence of that craft or trade by collective organization, part of it was to raise and codify standards of production. They initially had their own often very complex self-regulated standards of trade practice. This worked not only to protect people involved in the craft, but also to raise and guarantee the quality of the products they were selling.A very early form of consumer protection.


In her terrific book, “Swindle: The Dark History of Food Fraud From Poisoned Candy To Counterfeit Coffee,” author Bee Wilson argues,


Quote

the guild prided itself on letting nothing leave its shops but finished products, perfect of their kind . . . Not only fraud, but the very suspicion of fraud was rigorously excluded.”

End quote.


These guilds ranged from doctors to weavers and to metalworkers. In the areas of food, it included, amongst others, guilds for butchers, bakers, and brewers. There were also related guilds across Europe.


As these guilds became more successful and influential, their self-policing became more lax, and governments at both local and state levels began to step in with their own ordinances. And, in his article, F. Leslie Hart mentions one particular ordinance from London in 1400,


Quote

No poulterer or other person whatsoever shall expose for sale any manner of poultry that is unsound or unwholesome to man’s body, under pain of punishment by the pillory, and the article being burnt under him.”

End quote.


Death by burning chicken. Now that’s a hell of a way to go.


In 1202 or 1203, the first “Assize of Bread” was believed to have been announced by King John in Britain. We don’t have any documents of this proclamation – although we do, of course, know the most famous document he signed, The Magna Carta. We also do know that the Parliament, under King John’s successor, King Henry III, codified the “Assize of Bread and Ale.” Strict punishments were meted out against those who broke these laws measuring the weights and measures of various types of bread and beer. These laws worked by setting a fixed price of a loaf of bread and a mug of beer. Even though the cost of grain varied these prices remained constant, and instead the size of a loaf of bread or a mug of beer would increase or decrease. It was a complex system, but one that was to remain on the English statutes until about the 19th century. These staples of the Medieval diet -- such as bread, butter, cheese, meat, fish, wine and ale -- were subject to food laws, and the regulation of these staples were often more important than perhaps regulating other food.


Also, around the 13th century, we see the forming of the guild of food inspectors, known as “The Garbelers.” This term was taken from the Arabic word “garbel,” which meant to sift or select impurities from spices.


Just as in Britain, we see other European countries, such as France and Germany, prosecute those who had violated food adulteration edicts. Often, they would be punished using the very product that they themselves had violated. In 1444, a man who was condemned for violating that most precious of spice, saffron, was burned alive above a bonfire of his own adulterated crop. While, in 1482, a wine maker in Bierbrich in Germany was forced to drink six quarts of his own adulterated wine, which, unsurprisingly, caused him to die.


In Britain, by the time of the 15th century, the Garbelers had been joined by other groups of food inspectors. “Ale tasters” or “ale conners” was a role that was taken incredibly seriously in the Medieval period. Ale, during this time, was once referred to as


Quote

the people’s food in liquid form.”

End quote.


In all its varied strengths, ale was something that was drunk by most members of society. And, many women, known as “alewives,” brewed and sold ale. The ale conner was appointed by the local manor or the town to monitor ale in a certain jurisdiction and would visit any ale house or brewery checking their ales to make sure they were up to scratch. And if they were not, the ale may not be sold, or if the ale could be consumed but does not have the best quality, the ale conner may affix a lower price. The ale conner’s oath included this,


Quote

Ye shall well and truly serve his Majesty and this town. Ye shall at all times try, taste, and assize the beer and ale to be put on sale, whether the same be wholesome for man’s body, so help you God.”

End quote.


Staying with England, the period from the 1500s to the 19th century saw an increasingly challenged time when it came to the detection and punishment of food fraud. In part, this was because of the increase in valuable items being brought into the country and because of a weakening of the guilds’ policing. This was of course, the period during which the age of exploration and colonization was beginning to introduce new luxury goods into Europe such as coffee, tea, chocolate and sugar. I’ve written episodes of Eat My Globe on all of these subjects. If you have not yet listened to those, do go and check them out. In the episodes I have written, quite a bit about how these products were subject to some pretty scurrilous activities. Also, if you have listened to my episode on the history of cookbooks, you may want to check out some of those which offer advice for how to see if food was fresh and unadulterated.


The increase in these luxury consumer goods meant increased profits but not necessarily increased protections from food fraud and adulteration.


At the same time, the sophistication of the attempts at food fraud had become far more sophisticated and far too complex for the likes of the previous Medieval style food inspectors to deal with. 

As F. Leslie Hart puts it,


Quote

Adulteration had become a fine art.”

End quote.


Tea, my own favorite beverage, is the perfect example. From its first arrival into Britain in the 17thcentury, it was subject to adulteration because of its expense. Chinese merchants purportedly sold adulterated tea, and British merchants who brought it back to Britain further adulterated it. This adulteration could be carried out in lots of ways. This included everything from the simple redrying of tea that had already been used, to adding clay or iron fillings. There were even more reports of tea being adulterated with lamb dung, lead and copper to achieve the correct color. One of the reasons that the British took to drinking black tea was because it was less easy for food adulterers to exploit.


Adulteration of tea became even more of an issue as it became a national obsession in Britain. The government passed a law in 1725 to prohibit adulteration of tea. In fact, the government passed several other laws too to protect tea adulteration.


As well as ingredients such as coffee, tea, chocolate and sugar that I mentioned above, we also see a huge amount of adulteration in the spices that made their way into Europe – and, by the way, we did record an episode on the history of spices and the spice roads in Season 5.


The forms of adulteration too could be just as varied as for other ingredients, primarily bulking out weights of whole spices and adding additional powders to ground spices. It can become even more confusing when a cheaper spice is used to pad out a more expensive spice which has in common visual appearance or similar flavoring elements. So, in medieval times, you might have seen saffron adulterated with safflower, or black pepper adulterated by the addition of juniper berries or even rat poop.


Eiw.


This may all seem like it was a one-sided battle, and indeed, until the beginnings of the 19th century, it might be fair to suggest that despite the best attempts of governments, both national and local, the consumer was pretty much left to use their own judgement about which vendors and suppliers to trust. And that much of the legislation against the adulteration of food was that of English Common Law – that is, that law that came from custom and judicial precedent rather than legal statutes – rather than statutory laws.


However, at the beginning of the 19thcentury, we begin to see scientists – particularly, chemists – begin to turn their attention to the battle against food fraud, and to even the battle. Bee Wilson says in her book, “Swindle,” that,


Quote

In the history of food adulteration, there are two stages: before 1820 and after 1820; before Accum and after Accum.”

End quote.


While that might sound a little hyperbolic, it does go to show the impact that Frederick Accum had on our subject in hand.


Accum was a German by birth, but immigrated to England when he was 24. and by 1809, was a Professor of Chemistry at the Surrey Institution. In 1820, he published a book called,


Quote

A Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons: Exhibiting the Fraudulent Sophistications of Bread, Beer, Wine, Spirituous Liquors, Tea, Coffee, Cream, Confectionery, Vinegar, Mustard, Pepper, Cheese, Olive Oil, Pickles, and Other Articles Employed in Domestic Economy, and Methods of Detecting Them.”

End quote.


Quite a title.


On his book cover, the artwork includes a quote from the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 4, Verse 40,


Quote

There is Death in The Pot.”

End quote.


Bee Wilson observes that Accum looked at cooking and ingredients not so much as food, but as chemical interactions. Throughout the book, he is noticeably infuriated by anything which stands between the consumer and the possibility of eating wholesome food. As well as ingredients, such as those mentioned in the title and a host of others, including,


Quote

Poisonous Anchovy Sauce,”

End quote.


Accum also looked at household goods such as soap and even gives methods of detecting lead in water. He also does some “naming and shaming” by listing grocers who had been penalized for their fraudulent behavior along with the fines they were commissioned to pay.


I guess that’s an earlier example of canceling.


The publication of the book was unfortunately followed by great scandal. Accum was accused of mutilating books at the Royal Institution library by pulling pages from them to take away with him, and was thereafter arrested for the crime of robbery. He fled from London back to Germany. While he was to re-establish himself with two professorships in Berlin, it did leave a shadow on his career.


The book, however, was a considerable success in Britain and sold over 1000 copies in its first month. And, while it was not as we have seen the first time that people became aware of adulteration in their food, it was, perhaps the first time they had seen all the perils in the grocery store.


Accum’s book was followed by other books on a similar subject. In 1830, a book was published called, “Deadly Adulteration and Slow Poisoning Unmasked; or Disease and Death in The Pot and Bottle,” that was published anonymously and accredited to,


Quote

An Enemy of Fraud and Villainy.”

End quote.


This was followed by more books and pamphlets, and a series of articles published by the famous medical journal, “The Lancet,” between 1851 and 1854, written by Dr. A.H. Hassall on food adulteration. A further book followed and the list of adulterants declared found in food is both fascinating and alarming,


Quote

Cayenne Pepper

Number of samples – 28

Number adulterated – 24

Adulteration Found – Red lead, cinnabar, ochre, turmeric, mustard hulls, rice.”

End quote.


And, according to F. Leslie Hart, the items that was most subject to adulteration were candies. Hassall examined 100 samples and found out that 59 of them had elements of lead chromate, six with mercury sulfide, and four with white lead. There was even a candy known as “rock & rye” and was a favorite of school children, which Hart suggests contained


Quote

glucose, oil and fusel oil.”

End quote.


It was not until 1860 when the British government passed the “Adulteration Act,” which, according to Charles Albert Browne, the then Chief of the Bureau of Chemistry for the US Department of Agriculture in the early 1900s, was


Quote

“the pattern of all modern pure-food legislation.”

End quote.


Accum’s book was also a great success in the United States. Which is as good an excuse as any for us to move our attention to America.


BREAK MUSIC


SIMON:

Hi everybody, this is Simon Majumdar, the creator and host of the Eat My Globe food history podcast. Now, those of you have been listening to the podcast since we began over two years ago – nearly 50 episodes so far – will know that we have never sought out sponsorship for the podcast. It’s very much been a labor of love. However, along the way, a large number of people have approached us suggesting they would like to support the podcast. And so, we have opened up a page on Patreon dot com to allow those of you who listen regularly to do just that. Any support we will get will allow us to purchase research materials, buy ingredients for recipes, and maybe, when we can get out and about to bring you some very special in-the-field reporting. But, and this is really important. This is not just a one-way street. For varying levels of membership of our Patreon club, there will be access to fantastic Eat My Globe swag, including that incredible chopping board so many of you have written to me about, recipes based on historical periods about which we chat each week, video shout outs, signed pictures, and even along the way, some very special episodes just for members. So, if you’ve enjoyed the episodes of Eat My Globe you’ve listened to so far, and would like us to make many more into the future, do head over to www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe and consider taking out a membership. Any support will be much appreciated. Remember, that’s www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe. So, thank you very much, and keep listening.




For the period just after the arrival of the first American colonists, much of their food regulatory laws were based on what had already been implemented in Britain. In 1641, for example, Massachusetts and Virginia required bakers to identify bread with their own marks, much like how the ancient Romans branded their bread.


In 1785, after the United States had declared its independence from Britain, Massachusetts passed the “Act Against Selling Unwholesome Provisions.” Punishment for selling


Quote

diseased, corrupted, contagious or unwholesome provisions, whether for meat or drink,”

End quote


included fines, jail time or being pilloried.


And in 1837, Virginia passed a law prohibiting the dilution of milk.


But it was not until the period known as “The Progressive Era,” an era that ran from the 1890s to the 1920s, that we begin to see a major amount of reform. This era of social activism was prompted by the rise of the urbanization and rapid growth of industrialization that followed the American Civil War. It was more of a collection of organizations than one movement and was also one that saw the rise of the female reformers including those who fought for women’s suffrage, or the right to vote.


They were also at the heart of the “Pure Food and Drug Movement,” which looked to force the government to pass a national food and drug bill, as food frauds and adulteration were becoming intolerable. At the very beginning of the 20th century, the number of people lobbying for this bill began to attract some very influential people, including the American Medical Association, the powerful trade magazine, “American Grocer,” and even some well known food purveyors such as the H.J. Heinz Company.


Perhaps most important of all was a book published in 1906 by author Upton Sinclair. “The Jungle gave the public their first very real and very frightening view of the conditions in Chicago’s slaughterhouses. The book became famous and was published in 17 languages. However, while Sinclair was the hero of food safety, it was, to his own mind, somewhat of a failure. He had meant to turn the public attention to the appalling conditions of the workers in the slaughterhouses. Instead, the public were far more concerned about the quality of the meat that was being sent out to the markets. He complained,


Quote

I aimed at the public’s heart . . . and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

End quote.


Despite that, he became an accidental muckraker – a pejorative term used by President Theodore Roosevelt to describe those who wrote about exposing society’s underbelly – and his book played a strong part in bringing America to that point when the “Pure Food and Drug Act” of 1906 was passed into law. The “Meat Inspection Act” was passed in to law the same day.


These acts had their failures and “The Pure Food and Drug Act” was replaced in 1938 by the “Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.” This law gave the FDA – or the Food and Drug Administration – broad powers to enforce the statute.


Now, as we come towards the end of this episode, we should realize that despite all the rules and regulations that have come into play since 1938, and trust me there are many, many of them, that food fraud is just as prevalent today as it has always been.



In fact, many criminal organizations are turning towards food fraud because the profits are high, but the penalties are relatively low, particularly when compared to those meted out for the trafficking of drugs or people.


The International Food Safety Authorities Network, which is a part of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, notes that


Quote

Food fraud . . . is rising in awareness and concern. Serious public health consequences to instances of food fraud have emphasized the need for coordinated action in order to mitigate negative impacts.

End quote.


And in the United States, food fraud is costing the economy around $10 to $15 billion per year. And food fraud is most common in


Quote

fish and seafood, oils and fats, alcoholic beverages, meat and meat products, dairy products, grains and grain products, honey and other natural sweeteners.”

End quote.


So most everything then.


Perhaps one of the ingredients most subject to fraud is that of olive oil, where one of the largest olive oil dealers in the 1990s went to prison for passing off oil from Turkish hazelnuts as olive oil. And there are also reports of fake vodka, fake “wild” salmon, and fake “organic” food, and so on.


Now, that might seem like a bit of a downer as a thought to leave you with this week. But, it is a sober reminder that just as it has always been, food fraud is very much still with us, and while there is so much criminal coin to be made from it, it will always be with us. So, just be sure you know what you are buying and never be afraid to ask questions.


See you next week folks.


OUTRO MUSIC


SIMON:

Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.


And, if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us a good rating on your favorite podcast provider. That really makes a difference.


Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, and we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t knowabout food.


CREDITS


The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”


[Pah pah pah pah pah sound]


and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Doctor Tawny Paul, Public History Initiative Director, for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.


SIMON:

What I’m saying is that my jokes in this season of the podcast are the best ever. They are fantastiche.

Published Date: December 13, 2021

For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.