How food manufacturers have bullied buyers for years
How food manufacturers have bullied buyers for years

In 1902, the head of the Bureau of Chemistry of the US Department of Agriculture, Harvey Wiley, created the "Poison Squad" - a group of volunteers on which he tested the effects of various dyes, sweeteners and other food additives.

12 volunteers tested everything on themselves - including varieties of new preservatives: borax, salicylic acid, benzoate and formaldehyde. Each participant was carefully examined: his weight, temperature and pulse were recorded. Their feces and urine were analyzed. This was a squadron of "martyrs of science."


As a result of these experiments, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created in 1906, whose task was to combat the spread of drugs and products that are dangerous to health. In the same year, a law was passed regulating food trade. From now on, the manufacturer was obliged to indicate all the additives used, and also to report only on the real properties of the product.

To understand the need to regulate the food market, you need to imagine the situation in the food market. Food poisoning, infectious diseases, simply undermined health - this is the price that humanity pays for the desire to eat tastier and cheaper. If the poor died from contaminated grain and other unusable products against the background of general unsanitary conditions, the rich were ruined by the professional tricks of the cooks. At feasts, it was supposed to surprise guests with outlandish dishes, and some chefs experimented with dyes to give the dishes an unusual color. In particular, acetic-copper salt (yar-copperhead) could color meat or game in shades of green pleasant to the eye, and at the same time send feasts to the cemetery.

Some medieval entrepreneurs cheated outright. White bread was expensive and was considered a product for the nobility and wealthy townspeople. Bakers who wanted to save money brightened rye bread with lime or chalk. However, the swindlers who came across faced a harsh retribution. In Switzerland, for example, delinquent cooks and bakers were put in a cage, which was hung over a cesspool.

A whole industry arose in England, supplying counterfeit or slightly tainted products, which always found a market. In 1771, the Scottish writer Tobias Smollett wrote of his experience in the British capital: “The bread that I eat in London is a harmful mixture of chalk, alum and bone dust, devoid of taste and unhealthy. Kind people are well aware of all these additives, but they prefer such bread to ordinary bread because it is whiter. So they sacrifice taste and their own health in the name of appearance, and bakers and millers have to poison themselves and their families in order not to lose their earnings."

London bakers added clay, potato peelings, and sawdust to the bread to make the loaves heavier. If the bread was baked from spoiled flour, the sour taste was eliminated by adding ammonium carbonate. However, the brewers could give bakers a hundred points ahead. Strychnine was added to the beer to achieve an exquisite bitter taste.

In 1820, the German chemist Friedrich Akkum, who lived in London, published a book that shocked his contemporaries. He became interested in the chemical composition of food sold on the streets of the British capital. The results of the study horrified him.


The scientist, in particular, found out that many London tea traders slip already used tea leaves to customers, giving them a presentation. Enterprising businessmen bought used tea leaves in hotels and cafes, and then subjected it to complex processing.First, the tea leaves were boiled with iron vitriol and sheep dung, then industrial dyes were added - Prussian blue and Yar-copperhead, as well as ordinary soot. The dried "secondary" leaves looked as good as new and went to the counter. Some traders even sold tea, which consisted of any leaves other than tea.

Also, Akkum found that producers of dark beer used a substance called "bitterness" to improve the taste of the drink, which contained the same iron vitriol, cassia leaves and a number of other inedible additives. Flour, as it turned out, was mixed with starch, and red wine was tinted with blueberry or elderberry juice. But the worst was the case with sweets like lollipops and jellies. Manufacturers often added lead, copper or mercury to them to give them a beautiful color. This is understandable, because sweets should look attractive to children.

In 1860, Parliament passed the Food Additives Act, which outlawed the most dangerous exercise with food.


In the United States, the situation developed in a similar way, but the Americans proposed a more radical solution to the problem. Writer, journalist and socialist Upton Sinclair spent seven weeks incognito at the famous Chicago slaughterhouses, before publishing Jungle in 1905, in which he described in the darkest terms the peculiarities of the food industry, including terrible unsanitary conditions and constant attempts to save money on quality. Since the publication of the book, meat consumption in the United States has almost halved.

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