The Economics of Health

2. Food and Profits


Sir Jack Drummond, the nutritional expert who was murdered in the South of France a few years ago, declared that if we were to put the nation’s diet right we could close half our hospitals. Drummond was well aware of the extent of food sophistication, that most of our foods are adulterated, preserved, coloured with dyes, treated with’ anti-oxidants and anti-staling agents (not anti-Stalin agents), sprayed with poisonous concoctions and grown in soil which has been treated with chemicals. A lot of our foods have gone through all these processes—in fact, any food that comes from a factory and is canned or packed up in some way, has had most of these mysterious treatments. For what purpose is all this done to our food? Who has demanded that food should be grown artificially, have its vitamins removed, have chalk mixed with it, have it bleached with poisonous gases, and various chemicals added so that it will keep twice as long in a soft condition than it otherwise would? Whoever made such requests to food manufacturers? The answer is that nobody has ever asked that any of these things shall be done to his or her food—they are all done without our wishes and in many cases without our knowledge.


There are about 700 chemicals used in the manufacture of foodstuffs and most of this delightful list has not been sufficiently tested to determine precisely its toxicological effects upon the human body, This fact was referred to in an address given by Sir Edward Mellanby as President of the Medical Research Council, But let us ask again why are these foods tampered with in such a way? The answer is that it enables products to be sold and hence a profit made—which is the prime object. Caviar is not used to adulterate sausages nor brandy to sophisticate beer, because this would be unprofitable.


Why does the farmer grow wheat? Because there are people who want bread? No fear; so far as he is concerned they can starve if they have not the money to pay for it. there are people wanting all sorts of things, but nobody is going to try to provide them because there is no profit to be made. Yes, profit! The farmer grows wheat with a view to making profit, on which he lives. The miller grinds the corn to flour for the self-same delightful purpose—that of making profit, the baker bakes bread for no other purpose than profit. If it is profitable to use artificial fertilisers to grow more wheat. and barley, potatoes and sugar-beet then the farmer employs artificial fertilisers. If the miller discovers that by bleaching flour he can sell more of it, then it is bleached white, or if required, he would colour it purple to aid his sales. When he finds that by extracting vitamins from his flour he can keep it longer and so prevent germination, which would prejudice sales, then the germ of the wheat is extracted, if the baker finds that people want bread that does not go stale in 24 hours, and are prepared to pay for a loaf that is more like a pudding, then who can blame him if he makes it so? So long as society is run in this way we will have the present state of affairs—the factor that is wrong is neither the farmer, the miller nor the baker, nor even the public, but the social set-up that produces these idiotic and harmful phenomena. Fancy selling foods by colour. Not only are sweets made in all the colours of the rainbow with aniline dyes, but so are jams, confectionery and tinned foods. In older days, in order to adulterate a sack of flour a miller, if sufficiently unscrupulous, would put a heavy stone in it. The size of the stone was usually proportional to his scruples. To-day it is necessary to be a little more scientific and grind the stone down to powder and mix it carefully with the flour. Perhaps to-day’s process is the most dangerous for it cannot be so easily extracted as the former stone could. But the motive is precisely the same. Of course, ordinary stones are not used, but special ones- chalk and various powders functioning as anti-oxidants and anti-staling agents, and substances to soak up water, which makes a loaf more like a sponge, or causes water to stand up on end. All these chemical treatments masquerade under the name of “improvers,” meaning that they improve the profits of the baker.


Horace Jarvis