Chronology of Food Law
Assize of Bread and Ale 1266 acknowledged to be the earliest food legislation regulating the sale of underweight bread and unsound meat but, along with all that followed until the late nineteenth century, was ineffective.
Adulteration of Tea and Coffee Act 1724
Adulteration of Tea Act 1730
Adulteration of Tea Act 1776
Hull Corn-Mill Society formed as one of the earliest co-operatives.
The population was 8.9m, with a fifth town and four-fifths rural dwellers.
Assize of Bread and Ale 1266 repealed in the spirit of Adam Smith’s free market thinking. The ‘futility of economic regulation’ was the order of the day and competition on price, not just quality became possible.
Frederick Accum’s ‘Death in the Pot’ published, but his subsequent disgrace was a setback to the cause eradicating adulterated food.
Bread Act 1822
Corn, Peas, Beans or Parsnips and Cocoa Act 1822
Beerhouse Act 1830 allowed anyone to sell beer and 45,000 beerhouses were opened in 8 years.
Bread Act 1836
Rochdale Pioneers launch the first modern co-operative.
Mitchell’s ‘Falsification of Food’ sets new standards using chemical analysis of food but his work has limited circulation.
50,000 bakers were engaged in intense competition. The year marked a decisive turning point in the public’s recognition of the adulteration of food. It was impossible to obtain basic foods in a pure state.
The Co-operative Movement begins to have an impact, although the public were initially reluctant to accept pure foods.
Hassall presents a paper to the Botanical Society on the Adulteration of Coffee and refutes Government statements that no foolproof methods existed to detect certain kinds of adulteration.
The population reaches 18m, roughly evenly balanced between town and rural dwellers.
The Lancet publishes weekly articles - the Hassall reports - under the title ‘Analytical Sanitary Commission’ which demonstrated not only frauds on the pocket but foods seriously hazardous to health, giving full details of hundreds of transgressors. Hassall’s work was widely popularised and the medical profession became increasingly interested.
Birmingham surgeon John Postgate became convinced that adulteration was a leading cause of disease.
The Select Committee on Public Houses found the dilution and adulteration of beer to be widespread and recommended a separate inquiry into the adulteration of food.
Postgate suggests a committee of inquiry.
The Select Committee on Adulteration of Food was appointed in July and food adulteration became big news.
Crosse & Blackwell seize the opportunity and made great play of their decision to abandon adulterants and in educating customers.
The Select Committee was reported.
Hassall published a second volume and identified improvements by some manufacturers. The phrase ‘pure and unadulterated’ becomes a stock advertising slogan in the late 1850s.
Public tastes are changing, but the benefit was largely felt by the middle class. Legislation was needed to deal with a continuing large number of wrongdoers who were providing for the poor working class, the majority of the population, while vested interests still sought voluntary reform.
The first bill to control the adulteration of food and drink was introduced in the House of Commons, but following strong opposition, was withdrawn.
The Social Science Association, an influential pressure group, was founded in Birmingham.
Hassall finds adulteration rife in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool, but it was not as universal as it was in London in 1851.
Two further bills brought forward but change in government prevented them from becoming law.
In October, the ‘Bradford lozenge scandal’ took place when about 200 were poisoned and 20 died when arsenic was mistaken for plaster of Paris in sweet production.
Adulteration of Food and Drink Act 1860. The first general Act empowered the appointment of public analysts but only seven were appointed. It was a compromise, permissive in nature and not generally acted upon, it “passed on to the statute book and into oblivion”. While the Act was a failure, it set a precedent in which the State had shown a willingness to intervene in Adam Smith’s free market economy.
Public opinion causes some manufacturers and retailers to put their houses in order before being compelled.
Dr Edward Lankester delivers a lecture to the Royal Society of Arts claiming that 87% of bread and 74% of milk sold in London was adulterated.
The rapid expansion of the Co-operative Movement was in progress and the North of England CWS was established comprising 48 societies, made possible by the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1862. This demonstrated the power of collective action in the importation and purchase of food and which safeguarded against adulterated food.
Postgate lays radical amendments to the 1860 Act in Parliament but withdrawn.
Adulteration of Food and Drink and Drugs Act 1872 made the appointment of public analysts mandatory and made it an offence to sell mixtures (chicory and coffee, for example) unless these was declared. The Act covered drugs for first time, introduced an element of central control. Although hard to secure convictions due to continuing requirement for mens rea, within 3 years more than 1500 convictions were secured.
In Fitzpatrick v Kelly partially negated the need to prove mens rea to secure a conviction for offences under the 1860 Act.
Roberts v Egerton confirms the decision in Fitzpatrick v Kelly.
Select Committee on the workings of 1872 Act appointed.
Society of Public Analysts founded and it soon enrolled almost every practitioner. The Society defined adulteration and set standards for particular foods – spirits, milk, margarine, butter, etc.
Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1875 came into force in August and was set to become the basis of present day law. The Act had a big impact in improving the quality of basic foods, the suppression of adulteration and in establishing food purity. It confirmed offences of strict liability and introduced heavy penalties for adulteration of food including three months hard labour for a second offence.
Public Health Act 1875 provided powers to inspect and seize unsound food.
In little more than 10 years samples of adulterated bread fell from 7.4% to 0.6%
The Margarine Act 1887
In Sandys v Small a notice reading ‘All spirits sold here are mixed’ was held sufficient to inform a purchaser even where it had not been seen.
An incident occurred at Welbeck Abbey in which 72 people were taken ill and four died. Imported American ham was held responsible following the first occasion on which, when a sample of ham was submitted for analysis, microbiological examination was undertaken. Food poisoning emerges as a public health problem.
The Local Government Act 1888 makes provision for better enforcement of food and drugs legislation.
Gaertner isolates Salmonella enteritidis in a patient who died in a food poisoning outbreak.
LGB target of one food sample analysed per thousand population met - 26,954 samples taken. The quality of bread and tea had dramatically improved.
In James v Jones it was held that baking-powder (containing 40% alum) was not an item of food because it was never eaten alone.
Van Erminger described Clostridium botulinum.
Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1899 widens the definition of food to include ‘any article which ordinarily enters into or is used in the composition or preparation of human food.’ Attention turns to food quality and nutrition.
Bread, flour, tea and sugar were as pure as could be desired.
In the north of England 6,000 people affected, seventy died, when beer found to be contaminated with arsenic of sulphuric acid used in the preparation of sugar supplied to brewers.
Sale of Milk Regulations 1901 stipulated that milk should contain at least 3% milk fat and 8.5% other solids as a response to continuing adulteration, but a standard already being observed by some. There were no minimum standards of cleanliness.
Sale of Butter Regulations 1902
The International Dairy Federation (IDF) develops international standards for milk and milk products. IDF was later to be an important catalyst in the creation of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
George Newman, the first Chief Medical Officer, devised a method of pasteurisation of milk by heating in closed pasteurisers for at least 20 minutes at no less than 1400F.
Public Health (Regulations as to Food) Act 1907
Butter and Margarine Amendment Act 1907
Population reaches 42.2m with four-fifths town and a fifth rural dwellers.
Public Health (Milk and Cream) Regulations 1912
Milk and Dairies Act 1914 was the first attempt to legislate on the production and sale of milk, but it was not implemented until 1925.
Milk and Dairies (Amendment) Act 1922 postponed the implementation of the 1914 Acts until 1925 but outlawed the sale of tuberculous milk and introduced licensed designations, including ‘Pasteurised’.
Milk (Special Designations) Order 1923 finalised the licensed milk designations.
The use of preservatives became regulated and those permitted had, where used, to be declared on the label.
Food and Drugs (Adulteration) Act 1928 consolidated the law and repealed the 1875 Act.
Milk Marketing Board (MMB) established.
Milk Act 1934
Milk (Special Designations) Order 1936 prescribed five new grades of milk replacing ‘Grade A’.
Food and Drugs Act 1938 combined food, drugs and public health legislation relating to food. Introduced penalties for false or misleading labels and adverts and the ability to make regulations governing the composition and labelling of food. Food poisoning become notifiable for the first time across the whole country. The Act repealed over 250 provisions contained in 36 Acts dating back to Henry VIII.
There were 83 incidents of food poisoning in England and Wales which involved 94 people.
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is founded with responsibilities covering nutrition and associated international food standards.
Ice Cream (Heat Treatment etc.) Regulations 1947 made in response to ice cream-borne typhoid outbreak in Aberystwyth.
World Health Organisation (WHO) is founded with responsibilities covering human health and, in particular, a mandate to establish food standards.
Milk (Special Designations) Act 1949 introduced first local option of compulsory pasteurisation of milk.
Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community agreed. Its purpose was to create interdependence in coal and steel so that one country could no longer mobilise armed forces without others knowing. The aim was to ease distrust and tensions after World War II. The ECSC treaty expired in 2002.
Labelling of Food Order 1953
Food and Drugs Act 1955
Food Hygiene Regulations 1955
There were 8,961 incidents of food poisoning in England and Wales which involved about 20,000 people.
Treaties of Rome set up the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). The main change was the extension of European integration to include general economic cooperation.
Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international food standard organisation, established as a joint FAO/WHO body.
Egg Pasteurization Regulations 1963 made in response to the occurrence of paratyphoid in association with liquid egg.
There were 3,184 incidents of food poisoning in England and Wales which involved 7,907 people.
There was an outbreak of typhoid in a hospital in Aberdeen linked with tinned corned beef from South America.
Brussels Treaty whose purpose was to streamline the European institutions, principally through the creation of a single Commission and a single Council to serve the then three European Communities (EEC, Euratom, ECSC). Repealed by the Treaty of Amsterdam.
Epping Jaundice outbreak when 84 people taken ill after eating wholemeal bread contaminated with an industrial chemical.
Medicine and Pharmacy Act 1968
European Communities Act 1972
Denmark, Ireland and United Kingdom joined the EU.
The landmark Cassis de Dijon case on trade barriers decided in the European Court of Justice.
Food Act 1984
Single European Act 1986 whose purpose was to reform the institutions in preparation for Portugal and Spain's membership and speed up decision-making in preparation for the single market. The main changes were the extension of qualified majority voting in the Council (making it harder for a single country to veto proposed legislation) and the creation of the cooperation and assent procedures giving Parliament more influence.
Spain and Portugal joined the EU.
The salmonella egg crisis.
Food Safety Act 1990
The Maastrict Treaty whose purpose was to prepare for European Monetary Union and introduce elements of a political union (citizenship, common foreign and internal affairs policy). The main changes were the establishment of the European Union and introduction of the co-decision procedure giving Parliament more say in decision-making. New forms of cooperation between EU governments, for example on defence and justice and home affairs, introduced.
Milk Marketing Board abolished.
Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU.
The James Report commissioned by the Labour Party in opposition was published.
The Pennington report on the circumstances surrounding a serious outbreak of E.coli O157 food poisoning in central Scotland published.
Treaty of Amsterdam. Purpose was to reform the EU institutions in preparation for the arrival of future member countries. Main changes: amendment, renumbering and consolidation of EU and EEC treaties. More transparent decision-making (increased use of the co-decision voting procedure).
Food Standards Act 1999
Lord Phillip's report on BSE published.
Treaty of Nice. Purpose was to reform the institutions so that the EU could function efficiently after reaching 25 member countries. Main changes: methods for changing the composition of the Commission and redefining the voting system in the Council.
Food Standards Agency established.
General food law Regulation (EC) 178/2002 establishes the EU framework for food law.
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) established.
Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the EU.
Dean review on the operation and effectiveness of the FSA.
In September the largest ever outbreak of E. coli O157 in Wales and the second largest in the UK occurred. There were more than 150 cases, most of whom were children. Thirty one people were admitted to hospital and a five year old died.
Wine Standards Board merged with the FSA.
Treaty of Lisbon. Purpose was to make the EU more democratic, more efficient and better able to address global problems, such as climate change, with one voice. Main changes: more power for the European Parliament, change of voting procedures in the Council, citizens' initiative, a permanent president of the European Council, a new High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a new EU diplomatic service. The Lisbon treaty clarifies which powers: belong to the EU, belong to EU member countries and are shared.
Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU.
Pennington report on the September 2005 E. coli O157 outbreak in Wales published.
Meat Hygiene Service merged with the FSA.
Aspects of food labelling transferred to Defra and, in respect of nutrition labelling, to the Department of Health. The FSA retained responsibility for food safety labelling.
Slow Food International, Friends of the Earth Europe and Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe are appointed to the EU’s Advisory Group on the Food Chain and Animal and Plant Health.
The Scudamore report recommends that Scotland should have its own food regulator.
The horsemeat scandal breaks when a wide range of supermarket processed meat products are found to contain horse DNA.
Croatia joins the EU and becomes the 28th member state.
The Food Standards Agency drops its prosecution of Steve Hook for the sale of raw milk from a vending machine in Selfridges pending a review of raw milk controls.
Stichelton Dairy seeks an amendment to the PDO for Stilton cheese in order that it may be made from raw milk.