Modern methods of manufacture, transportation, and storage make it difficult to determine the history and quality of food we purchase in the markets. Yet the consumer has a natural right to know if the food offered for sale is the best of its kind; fresh eggs, clean milk, meat from healthy animals, untainted and free from harmful preservatives, sound vegetables and fruit, manufactured and preserved foodstuffs unspoiled by the manufacturing processes, free from harmful preservatives, and of good flavor. Many people must be in danger of forgetting the flavor of a fresh-laid egg. The familiar signs in many small shops, "Fresh eggs," "Strictly fresh eggs," "Fancy eggs," are amusing, but they bespeak an unnatural state of things.
As our business methods have created conditions beyond the control of the individual consumer it follows that we must take concerted action, and make and enforce whatever laws are necessary. This is done partly through the Federal government, and partly through state laws and municipal ordinances. Thus, while we may not know the actual conditions in which food is produced, we may through legislation seek to insure that the food we buy shall be
(1) what it purports to be in kind and amount,
(2) free from deterioration or unwholesome conditions,
(3) possessed of full nutritive value.
The Federal Food and Drugs Act of June 30, 1906, commonly known as "The Pure Food Law," and on which subsequent legislation by most of the states has been largely based, defines the main types of adulteration and misbranding, but, except in the case of confectionery and of habit-forming drugs, does not name the specific substances which are to be prohibited or restricted in use, nor does the law itself contain standards of composition for foods.
According to this law a food is deemed adulterated:
(1) If any substance has been mixed or packed with it. so as to reduce or lower or injuriously affect its quality or strength.
(2) If any substance has been substituted, wholly or in part.
(3) If any valuable constituent has been wholly or in part abstracted.
(4) If it be mixed, colored, coated, powdered, or stained in a manner whereby damage or inferiority is concealed.
(5) If it contain any added poisonous or other added deleterious ingredient which may render such article injurious to health.
(6) If it consists in whole or in part of a filthy, decomposed, or putrid animal or vegetable substance, or any portion of an animal unfit for food, or if it be the product of a diseased animal, or one that has died otherwise than by slaughter.
And a food is deemed to be misbranded :
(1) If it be an imitation of or offered for sale under the distinctive name of another article.
(2) If it be labeled or branded so as to deceive or mislead the purchaser, or purport to be a foreign product when not so, or if the contents shall have been substituted in whole or in part, or if it fail to bear a statement on the label of the quantity or proportion of any narcotic or habit-forming drug which it contains.
(3) If it bear an incorrect statement of weight or measure.
(4) If the package containing it or its label shall bear any statement, design, or device which is false or misleading in any particular.
For a fuller discussion of the basis of pure food legislation and the essential features of the United States laws see Sherman's "Food Products," from which a part of the summary here given is drawn.
The modern cold storage plant is of immense service in keeping food from the season of abundance to that of scarcity, but it may prove worse than useless if improperly managed. State and federal laws must control the management, and government inspection must be thorough. Cold storage would be a benefit to all under proper conditions of management, and the prices of many foods would be evenly adjusted by the maintenance of a steady supply. Many states now have laws regulating cold storage plants and there is every reason to hope that the abuses which have sometimes existed will be eliminated and the usefulness of cold storage extended.
We may feel that the progress of the pure food movement has been most satisfactory, even though much more remains to be done. The states generally have either enacted new food laws, or revised their laws following the national law. Under the national law over 2000 prosecutions have already (1913) been decided in favor of the government.
Congress has passed an even more stringent law for meat inspection supplementary to the Pure Food Law with ample appropriation for its enforcement. Moreover, in 1913, the Secretary of Agriculture appointed outside experts to inspect meat-packing establishments throughout the country. This inspection is to check up the regular work being done by the Bureau of Animal Industry.
The enforcing of federal and state laws has already largely stopped the misbranding of package foods as to weight or measure, cheap substitutions, the removal of valuable ingredients, and the sale of decomposed or tainted food derived from diseased animals. Remember that abuses can be kept down to any extent that we are willing to pay for. Taxpayers must appropriate money to pay for inspection, for laws, no matter how good, will not insure pure food unless carried out faithfully by an adequate number of specially trained inspectors.
In the face of all these difficulties we must not be frightened into that state of mind where danger seems to lurk in every mouthful. We must use caution and common sense in our buying, and earnestly support every good movement for bettering conditions.
There is a certain difference in quality even at a first class dealer's that one must learn to distinguish. One can of peaches will cost more than another, because the peaches are larger. If it is only this, and there is only a slight difference in flavor in favor of the more costly, buy the cheaper by all means. A fancy brand of imported preserves brings a fancy price which it is not worth while to pay. We have to learn to distinguish between poor and good quality, on the one hand, and between good and what may be called "fancy," on the other. We should demand the good, but most of us cannot afford the "fancy."