The absolute quantity may not be sufficient to show itself palpably upon a body weighing, say, 1 1/2 cwt., but it must be there all the same.
The Comite Consultatif d'Hygiene Publique of France reports in reference to the use of benzoic acid in articles of food that all antiseptics are injurious to natural digestion, because the addition of antiseptics of any kind is irrational as far as assimilation is concerned, and may be injurious to the normal action of the organs of digestion.
In times gone by, when the causes of the decomposition of food were not understood, the discovery of a preservative was doubtless an achievement; but now, when we not only know these causes, but can prevent decomposition indefinitely by exclusion of germs, or by cold, without the addition of any kind of foreign material we surely should make an attempt to discriminate between processes of preservation. If preservation could not be effected without the addition of some foreign materia], the benefit to mankind of preventing good food substance from decomposition would doubtless be greater than the slight physiological evil effect of the antiseptic itself. But as preservation of any article of food is possible without addition of chemicals, it seems to me that the time has come to protest against the present practice of allowing the addition of any antiseptic which the dealer in food may choose to make.
France was the first to raise objections against the use of preservatives. Most of the beer consumed in France used to be imported from Germany. When it was discovered that such beer almost invariably contained salicylic ncid, a vigorous agitation, in the interest of French home brewers, commenced. Finally, the Paris Court of Appeal decided that the addition of salicylic acid was to be considered an adulteration, and to the prejudice of the purchaser. The addition was declared to be not harmless, it having been shown that salicylated ales were a source of danger to the community, that salicylic acid was a drug, the use of which had to be ordered by a medical man, and could not be left with the trader. This judgment was based upon a Report of the Commission of the Academie de Medicine of Paris on the action of Salicylic Acid on Food. The Commission reported on numerous cases in which the preservation of articles of food by salicylic acid has produced serious results, and is of opinion that it is proved that small but continued doses of salicylic acid or silicylates, may produce serious gastric disturbances, especially with old persons and such who suffer from affections of the liver or organs of digestion.
For these reasons the addition of salicylic acid, or salts, should not be allowed to articles of food.
What was originally probably a trade protectionist movement soon became a general opinion. The indiscriminate use of antiseptics should not be. allowed, and one State after another passed laws forbidding the addition of preservatives to food, in some cases antiseptics generally, in others specified substances only.
Thus, by order of the Municipal Council of Buenos Ayres, the sale of beer containing salicylic acid was prohibited after March 31st, 1888. Other South American States followed. The town of Milan passed a similar law, referring to the prohibition of salicylic acid in beer, wine, and other articles of food; whilst the police of Berlin prohibited the addition of any kind of preservative whatever to milk.
In 1888 the Dutch Government caused an inquiry to be made into the use of salicylic acid in beer, and, as a result, all addition of salicylic acid to food was prohibited. The Italian Ministry in 1887 declared the addition of all substances to wine, which were not naturally contained in wine, to be an adulteration; in 1888 the Spanish Government followed with an absolute prohibition of antiseptics in wine, and the Austrian with that of salicylic acid.
In Germany a distinction is made between salicylic acid added during mashing, to check the growth of the acid-producing organisms, such an addition at that stage of brewing being allowed, not any of the acid, or only traces of it, being said to remain in the beer, and between the subsequent addition of salicylic acid to fully fermented beer, which is prohibited.
When salicylic acid had thus been virtually suppressed, other antiseptics came into vogue. Thus, in France, the use of benzoates became frequent, partly on account of the greater power of these compounds, partly because they are more difficult to trace and detect than salicylic acid. In Germany, sulphites and borates were more largely employed, and numerous preparations containing these as active ingredients were thrown upon the public. Thus, according to Polenske, the following articles have been advertised in Germany: -
Sozolith: containing 39.7 per cent sulphurous acid, as sodium salt.
Australian Meat Preservative: consisting of sulphites.
Berlinite: borax, with a little boric acid and nitrate of potash.
Brockmann's Salt: borax, boric acid, sodium chloride, and potassium nitrate.
Australian Salt: borax.
Barmenite: boric acid and salt.
Magdeburg Preservative Salt: borax, boric acid, and salt*
Heydrich's Salt: sodium chloride, potassium nitrate, and boric acid.
Again, as in the case of salicylic acid in previous years, long discussions arose as to the physiological activity of these substances. Liebreich contended that boric acid was perfectly harmless, but others have been able to trace distinct physiological effects to its administration; whilst, in 1889, the Society of Bavarian Analytical Chemists discussed the use of boric acid as an antiseptic, and came to the conclusion that it was objectionable from a sanitary point of view.
In England we have done absolutely nothing. On the contrary, the use of antiseptics has been virtually sanctioned in brewing. The law 48 and 49 Vict., Cap. 51, declares that a brewer of beer shall not add any matter or thing thereto except finings, or other matter or thing sanctioned by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. The use of antiseptics, notably bi-sulphite of lime, which is here chiefly used in beer, is therefore distinctly conditional upon the sanction of the Inland Revenue Commissioners; and the same would be the case in other articles of food, since the chemists of the Inland Revenue Commissioners are referees for cases under the Food and Drugs Act. The Sale of Food and Drugs Act, par 6, allows to be added to food any matter or ingredient not injurious to health, if the same is required for the production or preparation thereof as an article of commerce in a state fit for carriage or consumption. No one, surely, can contend that preservatives are necessary for the production or preparation of milk, butter, beer, wine, etc., in a. state fit for carriage or consumption, for the great majority of the samples analysed are free from antiseptics. Good milk, fresh butter, sound beer, can be made and sold without antiseptics.
As a matter of fact, they have been so sold for centuries, until sham science came in and taught the dirty and the careless producer how to evade the natural punishment of dirt and mismanagement. Antiseptics are convenient to such producers, but they are not required. Hence we have no option but to consider them as adulterations. The practice is utterly unjustifiable, except from the point of view of a dealer, who wants to make an extra profit, who wants to palm off a stale or ill-prepared article upon the public. (0. Hehner, in Analyst)