Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 12 Dec 1934

Vol. 19 No. 8

Sale of Food and Drugs (Milk) Bill, 1934—Second Stage.

The Cathaoirleach gave permission to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health to attend and be heard during the different stages of the Bill.
Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This legislation is intended to amend, in certain respects, the existing Sale of Food and Drugs Acts, so far as milk is concerned, with a view to strengthening the requirements and so as to ensure that milk intended for sale shall maintain a definite standard of quality and purity. Under Section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1889, the Minister for Agriculture is empowered to make regulations determining what deficiency in the normal constituents of milk should raise a presumption that the milk is not genuine. Under regulations made in 1901, the standards of 3 per cent. milk fat and 8.5 per cent. of solids, other than fat, were prescribed for whole milk. As Senators, no doubt, are aware, for quite a number of years prosecutions in the case of milk deficient in fats have been met by the defence that the milk was sold "as it came from the cow." That defence, whether genuine or not, has been found, in court at any rate, to be a reliable defence. It will be obvious that it is very difficult to disprove such a defence unless the adulteration of the milk has actually been seen by somebody who is prepared to come forward and give evidence that he was a witness of such adulteration. The defence that the milk "came straight from the cow" is one that cannot very well be rebutted.

In the light of the importance of milk as an article of diet, particularly for growing children, it is felt that the defence of "straight from the cow" should no longer be left open to purveyors of milk. The removal of that as a defence is the most important amendment in this Bill. The Minister for Agriculture will make regulations prescribing the percentage of fats and of solids other than fat in milk intended for human consumption. Personally, I feel that it would be wiser to have the percentage of fats low so as to ensure that the milk would, at least, reach the percentage set out, than to permit of the possibility of having milk sold for human consumption that was very defective as to its constituents. The other amendments to the Food and Drugs Acts are calculated to improve the machinery, and I do not think there is anything in any way contentious in them. There is no big principle raised in any of them. Therefore, I do not think it is necessary to delay the House further in explaining the provisions of the Bill.

I quite agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that the position with regard to the fats in milk has not been satisfactory. Those who have had any experience know very well that in the case of milk prosecutions the defence "as it came straight from the cow" is such that it is impossible almost to rebut it. The trouble is that butter fat in milk is very variable. It varies according to the seasons of the year and the class of cow from which the milk is taken. The treatment of the cow has also a good deal to do with it. I have observed myself at times that in very hot weather, when cows are tormented a good deal by flies, the butter fat in milk varies considerably, but notwithstanding that it very rarely happens, I think, that the milk from a herd of cows falls below three per cent. I would suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary and, through him, to the Minister for Agriculture, to seek a method by which, in conjunction with the specific gravity of milk, the percentage of fats should be determined. If milk is skimmed it has a tendency to increase its specific gravity. If, on the other hand, water is added, it reduces the specific gravity. At certain seasons of the year, when milk may contain 4½ per cent. or 5 per cent. of fats, a considerable amount of dilution could go on and still you would have a sufficient percentage of fats to satisfy the requirements of the Food and Drugs Acts. Water, as I have said, will reduce the specific gravity of the milk, and will give an almost certain indication that the milk has been tampered with. I welcome this Bill because I believe that it will help to ensure that the supply of milk will be better than it has been. I hope, too, that it will do away altogether with fraudulency in the treatment of milk, and that the Department of Agriculture will pursue its investigations with a view to securing that end.

We have heard a very lucid explanation of the principal provisions of this Bill from the Parliamentary Secretary. I am sure that no farmer and no representative in this House would be anxious to put anything into the Bill that would be calculated to protect the dishonest trader. The Bill deals with the sale of milk. Members of the House will understand that there are times when milk as it comes from the cow—from a cow that has been properly milked and properly fed—will be found not to be up to the standard, and to be deficient in butter fats. If, in such case, a prosecution takes place, an honest farmer or trader may be fined and disgraced for an act for which he had no responsibility whatever. We are all agreed that milk sold for human consumption, and especially as food for children, should be of the very best quality, and that the standard prescribed in the previous Acts was not too high. I would at least prefer that a dishonest trader should get scot free than that an honest trader should be victimised or scandalised for an act for which he was in no way responsible. I think that the Minister and his legal advisers ought to devise some means or insert some amendment to this Bill which would save an honest man from the disgrace of being convicted of adulterating milk in that way.

Section 2 of the Bill gives power to the Minister to make Orders prescribing the amount of butter fat and solids. I would very much prefer to have a separate clause in the Bill which would specify the amount of fats and solids, just as we have such specifications in other Food and Drugs Acts. We do not know what percentage of butter fats and solids the Minister may prescribe. Of course, when the Order is made, we perhaps may have an opportunity of discussing it, but why not have the percentages set out in the Bill so that there would be no necessity for making an Order and revoking it afterwards? The Parliamentary Secretary could achieve the same purpose by inserting the Order as a clause in the Bill. We welcome the Bill and we are all anxious to facilitate its operation, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will consider the two points that I have mentioned—firstly, that of devising some means to protect the honest trader and, secondly, that of inserting a clause in the Bill to achieve what he proposes now to do by Order.

I agree with Senator Counihan that the prescribed percentages of fats should be definitely laid down in the Bill. Senator Dowdall is an expert on this matter and we can all be guided by what he says. I should like to say that the trouble arising from the sale of milk is caused more by the way in which these Acts are administered than from any other reason. I know that in parts of the country, in fact all over the country, anybody can sell milk without any supervision. I know places in which there are one or two registered purveyors of milk and in which there are as many as 20 persons selling milk without any supervision whatever. I should like to call attention to that matter because it has been going on for many years. The practice in the country is that a person who has not a cow of his own, goes to the nearest person who has a cow to get milk. Those who are registered take all the risks and all the trouble. Numbers of others get the benefits and charge the same price, but they do not come under the law. I know of a case where milk was being sold with 1½ per cent. of butter fats while the person selling it was not a registered seller of milk for some considerable time.

There is no doubt that the main clause of this Bill empowers the Minister to make regulations fixing the percentage of butter fat and solids in milk. As Senator Counihan has stated, it would have been better if the prescribed percentages were inserted in the Bill, so that we could discuss them before the Bill is passed. However, I hope that before it finally leaves the House we shall have some indication from the Minister of the percentages of fat and solids that he proposes to prescribe under the regulations. I dare say the Minister will have the assistance of his experts in ascertaining what is the proper percentage. It is rather a difficult thing for the Minister, I admit, to fix a percentage such as will ensure that no adulterated or inferior milk will be sold. There is, on the one hand, the consumer to be considered; and on the other hand the producer, who should not be punished if, through no fault of his own, his dairy herd is not producing the required percentages of fat and solids. The Minister has an opportunity, in the case of farms which are under the Department of Agriculture, of ascertaining what the proper percentage should be. I understand that some time ago the Glasnevin herd was tested both as regards the combined yield of the cows and also as regards the milk of each individual cow. I understand that in several instances the yield was not up to the prescribed 3 per cent.

In one part of this Bill there is a reference to the difference between the morning's and the evening's milk. That is a matter of which I entirely approve. As far as I know, the percentage of fat in these cases is entirely different. The sanitary authorities always were aware of that and they rarely took samples of the evening's milk, which is much richer than that of the morning. Although it is not stated in the Bill that the Minister is going to prescribe a different percentage for the morning's milk to that of the evening's, I hope he will do so. If he does, I think it will help considerably in ensuring that no innocent person will be punished and that the consumer will get what he has paid for. In Section 1 of the Bill a definition is given of whole milk and that definition apparently includes milk that has gone through some process of cleansing. I cannot imagine any milk that has been put through a cleansing process that would deserve the name of whole milk. As far as I know producers give milk that requires cleansing to pigs or reject it altogether. I think milk that has been cleansed should not be retained in the definition of whole milk.

There is also a reference to pasteurisation and sterilisation. I do not know whether these processes are connected with the cleansing process or not. I think that milk that would require cleansing should not be used for human beings at all. I thought that the Minister would have inserted in the Bill a definition of another class of milk which most consumers prefer to either pasteurised or sterilised milk. That is milk which I call fresh whole milk— milk that is delivered to the consumers within four or five hours after it has been milked. Most consumers prefer that kind of milk to either bottled milk, sterilised milk or pasteurised milk. They are very glad to get that milk if they possibly can, and in a rough and ready way they ascertain from the temperature of the milk whether it is freshly milked or whether it is stale milk that has gone through some process. The question whether milk that has been pasteurised has or has not lost any of its valuable properties would be a matter on which a medical man could give us some information, and I hope they do so, either in this Bill or in the accompanying Bill which is shortly to come before us, and which aims at the prevention of the sale of dirty milk. I hope the Minister in fixing the percentages will be very careful to get all the information he possibly can from the existing herds that are under his control. Of course these herds are of a higher quality and a higher character than the general run of dairy herds throughout the country. The cattle at Glasnevin are, of course, of a higher quality than the general run of cattle throughout the country, and he should make all due allowance for that in fixing the percentages. I think also that if he fixes a different percentage for the morning and evening's milk, he will have done a good deal to remedy the trouble we have had in dealing with milk in the past.

I support this Bill. It will be a very desirable improvement of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act, as regards the sale of milk. It will ensure the consumers getting a quality of milk of reasonable standard, and it should also be the interests of the honest trader.

The speeches of Senators Dowdall and Counihan make me think that I must have misread this Bill, and misunderstood its intention. I understood that the effect of the Bill was rather to remove from the dairyman the slur that he had adulterated milk, simply by the fact that he had sold a bad quality of milk, and that it would be an offence to sell a bad quality of milk even though he had not adulterated it. I rather read that into the Bill. I think that is the intention and, if that will be the effect, it will be a very desirable alteration of the law. After all, when a man sells poor milk, if there is a presumption that that milk contains 3 per cent. of butter fat and 8½ per cent. of solids, and that that is the normal consistency of milk, it is up to the seller before he offers it for sale to ensure that it contains that quantity of butter fat and that percentage of solidity. This Bill makes it an offence to sell milk below that normal standard, whether it was adulterated or not. It should be an offence, and I think that is the effect of the Bill.

To say that because milk has not been adulterated therefore there should be no offence, I do not think is good enough. Dairymen here will, I think, agree if I say it is quite possible to provide a herd of cows that will give large quantities of milk of poor quality, and it is possible by a special process of feeding to get quantities of milk of a poor quality, and if the milk that is sold to the public is of poor quality, and a larger quantity is obtained, either by a selection for quantity as against quality or by feeding for quantity as against quality, then the public is prejudiced and I think it should be made an offence to sell milk of a poor quality whether there is a deliberate adulteration or not. I think that is the effect of the Bill. If it is not the effect of the Bill, then I think it will fail in doing what it is desirable should be done.

There are two grades of offence. There is the offence which is deliberate adulteration by definite malice, and the offence of selling a poor quality of article below a certain standard. That, I think, is of less import. It is not as great a moral offence as the other, and yet it is trading to the detriment of the public. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will reassure me on this point, that the Bill makes it an offence to sell milk below a certain standard and leaves still operative in the law the offence of selling adulterated milk.

I would like to support the observations which have been made by Senator Johnson. It is possible to get weak milk either by feeding or breeding. You can get a cow that yields a large quantity of milk of low quality. You can breed such a cow. You can also feed cattle in such a way that they will produce large quantities of milk of low quality. That is wrong, and it ought to be provided for just as it is provided for by this Bill. But I think there is something of greater turpitude in going to the pump and putting water directly into the milk. I agree with Senator Johnson that these offences ought to be graded.

In regard to what my friend Senator Linehan has said, I think the Minister has fully provided in his Bill for any reasonable doubts that the Senator may have in mind. This definition which Senator Linehan speaks of, the definition of whole milk, is a reasonable and necessary one. It includes pasteurised milk, sterilised milk and strained milk. In ordinary language these are the three kinds of milk that it includes. There is nothing in that definition to suggest the idea that dirty milk should be sold. I think the cleansing process there means straining, pasteurising or sterilising. I desire to commend this measure to the House.

I think this Bill will do some good, but I visualise the time when the Ministry will have to go much further. In England, and most European countries—I would like to hear the medical profession talking on this matter—fully 80 per cent. of the milk sold is either sterilised or comes from tested cows. In England and in some continental countries 80 per cent. of the milk comes from tuberculin tested cows, or otherwise it is sterilised milk. I think it is almost impossible to get pure milk delivered from the cow under any circumstances. The medical profession are ominously silent. As I have already indicated, this Bill will do some good, but it will not get pure milk, until you have the milk either sterilised or you have tuberculin tested cows, such as some of our friends in Kildare have. Only then will you have clean milk. You will have to go further; you will have to call for the pasteurisation of the milk that is sent in for consumption by the public.

The subject with which the Senator is now dealing will come up for consideration under another Bill that will be presented to the Seanad in due course. Senators can then discuss clean milk, pasteurised milk, sterilised milk, and so on.

The Bill deals with an entirely different matter to that which Senator Cummins has raised. The Parliamentary Secretary will have power to specify a certain percentage of butter fat in the milk. This is a troublesome question and it is one to which the law does not apply in the same way in various areas in the Free State. For example, in Cork, if you can prove that the milk is as the cow gave it, the magistrate will not convict, whereas in Dublin, even if you prove that the milk is as the cow gave it, the magistrate will fine you £2. There is no use in the Minister saying that a cow gives bad milk. Pure milk from a cow cannot be bad milk. The law is now going to set a certain standard for milk which the Parliamentary Secretary thinks the public ought to get. I am not objecting to that; I merely object when the Parliamentary Secretary puts up the standard. At present under the British law, which applies to the Free State, the standard of milk all the year round in the matter of butter fat is 3 per cent. It frequently happens that well-fed cows on good grass will give milk which might fall below the 3 per cent. standard. If the Parliamentary Secretary prescribes 3 per cent. then that dairy farmer would be subject to a fine because the cows were not doing what the Parliamentary Secretary says they should do, they were not giving 3 per cent. of butter fat. That is the crux of the whole matter.

I will ask the Parliamentary Secretary to get the records of tests made by the Royal Dublin Society. They tested the produce of 17 cows, morning and evening, at the Model Farm. When he examines these records he will find that in the herd of cows kept by the Government, fed by the Government on the best of food at the expense of the taxpayer, at least seven or eight of them would be below the standard which the Parliamentary Secretary will fix when he prescribes 3 per cent. If that herd were kept by a farmer those seven or eight cows would be sufficient to make him liable to a prosecution under these circumstances. The case is made that if the farmer is careful and keeps his cows well he will be in a position to supply milk with 3 per cent, of butter fat. He must not sell milk with a smaller percentage of butter fat. The job is how is he to know if the cow gives milk below the standard. There is no use in the Parliamentary Secretary making out that what the cow gives is not milk in law. That is what he will have power to do when this Bill is passed.

I welcome this Bill just as I would welcome any regulation that will give us pure, good, clean milk. The Parliamentary Secretary stresses the importance of milk as a food for human beings and especially for young people. I have been listening carefully to all the speeches that have been made and, if I will be pardoned for saying it, I think most of them were absolute nonsense. It is not so much a question of what the milk should contain as what the milk does contain. It should be recognised that the milk contains tubercle bacillus. Fully 80 per cent. of our children who are suffering from bone disease have it because the milk contained tubercle bacillus. I would suggest to the Minister for Agriculture that instead of killing calves he should devote his attention to killing tubercular cows. The only Senator who spoke about good, clean, honest milk was Senator Cummins.

The Senator was dealing with the subject matter of quite another Bill.

All those matters deserve the most serious consideration. The presence of tubercle bacillus in milk is of very great importance. As regards the treatment of milk, the Parliamentary Secretary knows very well that there are very valuable elements in milk destroyed, especially by the process of sterilisation. I do not agree with sterilisation. I agree with the policy of getting milk from good, healthy cows. I would prefer to start at the foundation and get the milk from good, healthy cows. If we did that we would help to do away with the tubercle bacillus and with bone disease.

I would not like to have it go forward that the milk produced in this country is to any great extent tubercular milk. It has been clearly demonstrated in England, by just as great an authority as Senator O'Sullivan, that only 2 per cent. of tubercular cows give tubercular milk. The Senator talked about tubercular cows and about milk containing tubercle bacillus. It was a monstrous statement to make.

I cannot allow a discussion in reference to tubercular cows. The Bill does not deal with that.

I cannot understand how practical men advocate the establishment of a certain standard for milk and set out in a measure of this kind that that standard will have to be produced and sold and that no milk below that standard can be sold. If that is embodied in a statute it will follow that a great percentage of our cows will have to be scrapped; there will have to be a big percentage of them taken out of commission as regards the supply of milk to the towns and creameries. No matter what way cows are fed or treated, the percentage of fat in the milk remains fairly constant. No matter whether they produce a high or low quality of milk, the percentage of fat will proportionately increase or diminish according to the feed. It is also certain that a great number of the cows of this country and of every country produce milk of a standard below 3 per cent. in butter fat content, so that it strikes me as altogether unreasonable to establish, as the absolute law, a standard of 3 per cent. of butter fat for all milk supplies. It would, in my opinion, be more suitable if it were possible to arrange for inspectors to sample the milk and to have it sold according to its quality. It looks as if that is the logical outcome of the whole matter—that milk will have to be sold according to its butter fat content—which would mean that it would be sold according to quality as any other commercial article is sold. Otherwise, I do not see anything practical in that portion of the Bill.

I do not think 3 per cent. is mentioned in the Bill. It is a prescribed percentage, and I hope that, after this debate, it will be made 2.9.

As I anticipated, most of the discussion has been around the very important point of milk coming "straight from the cow." I do not agree with those Senators who would ask the House to believe that if we eliminate as a possible defence this defence of "straight from the cow" we would inflict any great hardship on any section of milk producers. The present standard of fat content laid down in the regulations is 3 per cent. and Senators who are interested in milk production and who have expert knowledge of the subject know that 3 per cent. is not a very high standard. The 3 per cent. set out in the regulations as the standard at present will be the minimum standard of fat content. There is no doubt whatever, and I would not question it for a moment, that the milk will occasionally fall even below the 3 per cent., but if it falls below 3 per cent., it falls for causes that can be removed.

No, sir.

In spite of the flat contradiction of the well informed Senator I cannot call him "colleague" in this House—Senator Wilson, who undoubtedly is well informed on this subject, I still maintain—perhaps the statement is too sweeping; I will modify it to this extent—that to a very large extent, at any rate, the causes that contribute towards a deficiency in fat content can be removed.

Quite so.

So far as my information goes on this subject—and it is a subject on which medical men are generally interested and to which I have given a considerable amount of thought—the largest contributing factor to a deficiency in the fat content of milk has not been unduly emphasised in this House in the course of this discussion. There is no doubt whatever that in a well kept and well fed herd, there will be individual cows, even well bred cows, which have an individual peculiarity and which do give milk which is deficient in fats although they are good breeds of cattle. That is established beyond any doubt, but the man who takes up this particular branch of the agricultural industry to make a living out of it has got to eliminate from his herd the cows that are not giving milk up to a certain standard and we have got to protect the community.

Might I interrupt for a moment?

I would rather you did not. A point of very considerable importance in relation to this question of deficiency in fat content is the regularity of milking the cows. It has been found—and experiments on a very extensive scale have been carried out; I have lots of figures but I do not want to weary the House with them—that the further it is removed from equality, the bigger the discrepancy will be as between one milk and the other. That is definitely established and it has been found and proven that the morning milk from well kept and good herds is deficient in fats, but it has also been established that by continuing up and learning the lesson which these experiments taught—by regulating the interval of milking—the morning deficiency has been practically eliminated. There are figures to prove that, if it were necessary to prove it. There are difficulties of distribution. The intervals between milking cannot be equalised for transport reasons and by reason of the time that milk must be delivered in cities and towns and all that sort of thing, but the producer and the purveyor of milk must at any rate do all the obvious necessary things in order to bring his milk up to a certain standard and I believe that if he does all the things, without incurring any great expense or going to any great inconvenience which he himself can do to improve the standard of his milk, he will have very little difficulty in producing milk that will uniformly reach the minimum of 3 per cent.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, the 3 per cent. is too high, I maintain that it is still better to fix a percentage—let that percentage be whatever it will—but if the public believe the Statute has safeguarded them against milk of a low grade, the public are entitled to get their high-grade milk which the Statute purports to provide. If the 3 per cent. standard is too high, when the Minister for Agriculture comes along with his regulations, by all means persuade him that he has fixed too high a standard, but ensure that the public get milk of the standard of purity that they believe they are getting and for which they are paying. Somebody mentioned in the course of the discussion that it would be desirable to have the standards of milk set out in the Bill. I do not think it would be, and for the reason that it may be necessary from time to time to change the standards, and they cannot be changed except by regulations made by the Minister. If, at any time, we wish to change the standards—medical opinions change from time to time and lay opinions change— I think it would be an undesirable position to put ourselves into of having to introduce fresh legislation, if we wished to raise the standard, say, to 3.5 per cent. or if, on the other hand, we wished to reduce it to 2.75 of butter fat content.

I think that on full examination those people who advocated the setting out of the standards in the Bill will agree with me that it is more desirable to leave the law as it stands in relation to that. It might be well, however, and I should be quite prepared to consider favourably such a proposal, that the regulations setting out the standards should be laid on the Table of the House and that Senators should be afforded an opportunity of discussing these regulations and persuading the House that they ought to be nullified or rejected if, in the wisdom of the House, it is considered that the right standard has not been set out. That is a matter on which I would have a very open mind, and if an amendment to that effect is tabled, there would be no serious objection to it. There has been a good deal of discussion which I do not intend to follow up on the general question of purity of milk, that is not proper to this Bill at all. This Bill is really incidental to the comprehensive Milk Bill at present before the Dáil and many of the matters raised here, and not pursued very far, were matters which, I think, were not proper to this Bill at all.

I think it was Senator Wilson who felt very disturbed that anybody who sold milk that came "straight from the cow" should be liable to conviction if that milk did not reach a certain standard. I do not know whether the particular abuse I have in mind is very extensive, but I do know for a fact that milk that has been sold as "straight from the cow" has come "straight from the cow," but it has only been the fore milk, and Senator Wilson, of course, knows that the percentage of fat in the fore milk is considerably lower than the percentage of fat in the later milk. A case has come before my notice where the fore milk was sold for human consumption and a high price got for it, while the strippings were sold to the creamery where they are paid on the percentage of butter fat.

It must be in Monaghan.

I do confess that we are fairly up-to-date in our methods in Monaghan, and fairly advanced in our views on all matters. In so far as our responsibilities to the general community are concerned, nothing, of course, of a disparaging nature can be said of us. One of the last Senators who spoke, Senator Dillon, appeared to be under the impression that this standard of 3 per cent. would apply to milk sent to creameries. That is not so. The milk will go to the creameries as it always went, and the people who send it will be paid on the butter fat content. We are not concerned with that in this Bill. We are concerned with ensuring that the milk sold for human consumption will reach a certain standard, and that standard will be set out in regulations made under the Bill.

Is it not a fact that a man could be prosecuted for sending milk containing a lesser percentage of butter fat than 3 per cent.?

That has happened in my experience.

Not under this Bill. It may be possible under some other legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Are there likely to be amendments to this Bill, because, if not, we could take the Committee Stage to-morrow?

Would the Parliamentary Secretary insert that amendment by which the prescribed regulations will be laid on the Table of the House?

We had better take the Committee Stage on this day week.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, December 19th.