Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Adulteration. "The act of debasing a pure or genuine article for pecuniary profit, by adding to it an inferior or spurious article, or taking one of its constituents away." Until 1860, so far as the law was concerned, traders were free to adulterate the articles they dealt in to any extent. In 1855, however, Mr. William Scholefield, one of the members of Parliament for Birmingham, moved for a Select Committee of inquiry into the adulteration of foods, drinks, and drugs. The disclosures made before this committee, which sat for two sessions and presented three reports, were such that legislation followed in 1860, giving permissive power to local authorities to appoint analysts and imposing penalties of a somewhat mild character upon offenders. Under this Act practically nothing was done. In 1872 the Adulteration of Food Act became law, and in this the appointing of analysts was made compulsory. In 1874 a Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the operation of the Adulteration of the Food and Drinks Act, 1872, and this committee recommended the consolidation of the Acts of 1860 and 1872. This was done in a Government measure, and the Sale of Food and Drugs Act, 1875, with its Amendment Act, 1879, embodies the present law relating to adulteration, According to these Acts the mixing of injurious ingredients in any food or drug meant to be sold is forbidden under a penalty not exceeding £50 for the first offence, and not exceeding six months' hard labour for subsequent offences. If the seller of articles so mixed with injurious ingredients can prove that it was impossible for him to know of the presence of these ingredients, such proof is an adequate defence. Again, the selling of food and drugs "not of the nature, substance, and quality of the article" demanded by the purchaser is forbidden under a penalty of £20. It is also forbidden, under a penalty not exceeding £20, to abstract from_ an article of food any part of it so as to affect injuriously its quality, substance, or nature, and to then sell this article without giving notice of its altered character. Any purchaser that suspects the articles he buys may have them analysed by the public analyst on paying a fee not exceeding ten shillings and sixpence for each case, and for this he is entitled to receive from the analyst a certificate of the result of the analysis. Many private purchasers call in the services of the analyst, not with a view to prosecuting tradesmen, but for their own guidance, and if they find the articles submitted to analysis to be tampered with, they change their custom. If a prosecution be intended it is "necessary for the purchaser at the time of making the purchase to tell the seller of his intention to have the article bought analysed, and to offer to divide the article into three parts - one to be left with the seller, one for himself, and one for the public analyst. If the seller declines the offer then the whole is taken to the analyst, who divides it into two, one for analysis and one for the purchaser. Prosecutions for adulteration are usually based on purchases made by inspectors and police-constables, and any dealer refusing to sell to such any article offered for sale in his shop is liable to a penalty of £10. There is a special provision in the Act dealing with tea, which is thereby examined by the Customs on importation, and if found unfit for human food is destroyed. The extent to which tea used to be adulterated may be inferred from a report presented to the House of Commons in 1783, where it is stated that four million pounds were annually manufactured in England from sloe and ash leaves - this, too, at a time when the total imports into this country were only six million pounds. In 1843 again, an Inland Revenue official reported that there were eight factories in London for redrying exhausted tea-leaves which they purchased from hotels and coffee-houses at 2jd. per lb. A common adulterant with coffee, and perhaps the least objectionable, is chicory, which is only a sixth of the price of coffee; others are, or used to be, roasted wheat, ground acorns, roasted carrots, scorched beans, roasted parsnips, mangold wurzel, dog's biscuits, burnt sugar, red earth, roasted horse-chestnuts, mahogany dust, baked horse's and bullock's liver. The number of prosecutions that take place under the Food and Drugs Act is through milk, which is easily and profitably adulterated by adding water. A large proportion of cream is often taken from the milk, which is then sold as genuine. Beer is adulterated with salt, and tobacco and drugs are added as well, to increase its alcoholic strength and pungency. Most of what is sold as honey is made from starch. Tobacco, like milk, is extensively watered, and a tobacconist was prosecuted not long ago for cutting up brown paper and mixing it with tobacco for cigarettes. Mustard is said to be never purchasable in a pure state, but mixed with flour, turmeric, cayenne pepper, ginger, etc., to an enormous extent. Bread is adulterated with alum, potatoes (which enable the flour to carry more water), boiled rice, carbonate of soda, and so on - the flour, too, from which it is made having most likely suffered at the sophisticating hands of the miller. A special Act was passed in 1887 relating to the adulteration of butter. To give an exhaustive statement of the extent to which adulteration is practised would be to recount nearly every article that enters into human consumption.