London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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London County Council 1912

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for London County Council]

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Report of the County Medical Officer—General.
All the London sanitary authorities in addition to the City Corporation take active steps as regards
detecting unsound food, and most of the reports contain references to seizures or surrenders, some of
very large quantities. For instance, in Bermondsey, 271 tons of food, including eggs, to the amount
of 81 tons, were destroyed, and 3,153 tons disposed of for purposes other than the food of man. In
all 70,000 tons of food was examined. In Finsbury, 74 tons of meat and 82 tons of decomposed food
stuffs were destroyed. Southwark has the following record—2,412 tons of food examined at wharves,
153 tons unsound; of 316 tons examined in the borough, 35 tons were surrendered by the owners, and
half a ton was seized; of a total of 16,185 samples taken, 2,083 were unsound. In Stepney, food stuffs
from the wharves amounting to 243 tons were destroyed, and from shops 3 tons of unsound meat and
11 tons of miscellaneous food were surrendered. Dr. Harris, the medical officer of health of Islington,
mentions the curious fact that the representative of an American canned meat firm with an English
factory in Islington asked for a certificate to enable him to export his firm's products to the United
States, where, it is mentioned, there is a growing shortage of meat.

The reports relating to the following districts show that proceedings before the magistrates in connection with unsound food were instituted in the number of instances stated.

Sanitary district.Proceedings. Instances.Result.
City of London11 conviction.
Bermondsey1111 convictions (1 with a penalty of six weeks' imprisonment).
Bethnal Green75 convictions, 2 summonses withdrawn.
Deptford33 convictions.
Fulham21 conviction, 1 case dismissed.
Kensington32 convictions, 1 summons withdrawn.
Paddington22 cases dismissed.
Poplar1Acquitted, but refused costs.
St. Marylebone22 convictions.
Shoreditch32 convictions.
Southwark52 convictions, 3 cases dismissed, in 2 of them with costs aaainst defendant.
Stepney33 convictions (in 1 case with 4 months' hard labour).
Westminster43 convictions, 1 case defendant bound over.

In summary of the above table it may be mentioned that there were in all 47 prosecutions. In
36 instances convictions Were obtained, 2 cases were dismissed with costs against the defendants, in
one case defendant though acquitted was refused costs, one defendant was bound over in his own recognisances,
3 cases were withdrawn and 4 cases were dismissed with costs against the borough councils.
A Fulham butcher was convicted and fined in respect of a tuberculous bullock's pluck found
on his premises. A summons was issued against the wholesale dealer at Smithfield who supplied the
pluck, but the action failed, the defendant proving that when he sold the meat he did not know, nor had
he any reason to believe, that the pluck was tuberculous. Dr. Sandilands mentions the prosecution
of a Billingsgate vendor who was convicted for supplying dabs in a state of putrefaction. The retailer
escaped by stating that he had intended to surrender the fish. The Billingsgate vendor was convicted
on a second summons in respect of another consignment of dabs on the same day. In this case the
fish had been surrendered by the retailer. Dr. Sandilands states the second conviction would probably
have been quashed on appeal as the surrender of the goods nullified the suggestion that the dabs were
intended for the food of man, and he cites the case of Rex v. Ascanio Puck and Co., K.B.D., 18th
October, 1912.
In Stepney, proceedings were instituted against a dealer for selling unsound corned beef for
human food. The defendant traded as a company and all the invoices to him or to the company were
marked " to be used for poultry food." In spite of this fact cases of the meat had been sold to various
tradesmen under guarantees. In respect of the specific action 60 of 66 tins were in a putrid condition
and were condemned. The case was decided at the Central Criminal Court, when the defendant was
sentenced to four months' imprisonment with hard labour. Dr. Allan quotes the case of a pork butcher
in Westminster upon whose premises a pig had been seized and who sued the Central Market salesman
from whom he had bought the carcase. The defence was that there was no expressed or implied
warranty and that the carcase was not tuberculous. The jury found against the defendants on all
points and awarded damages.
During the year the Stepney Borough Council circularised all the metropolitan borough councils
with reference to the seizure and condemnation of tuberculous meat. The purchase in the case cited
had been completed outside the County of London, and the Stepney Borough Council had been advised
that section 47 (3) of the Public Health (London) Act, 1891, could not be applied. The borough
council had, therefore made a representation to the Local Government Board asking for an amendment
of the law.