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Orders of the Day — MILK AND DAIRIES (AMENDMENT) BILL [Lords.]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 19th July 1922.

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Photo of Sir William Cheyne Sir William Cheyne , Combined Scottish Universities

I want to say a few words with regard to milk from the health point of view. You may look at milk in two ways, one as a food and one as a possible carrier of dangerous organisms and so as a producer of disease. I will not go into the question of milk as a food, for what I want to speak about is especially the danger of tuberculosis in milk. Milk may be a carrier of disease in two ways. Milk may carry typhoid, not through the cow having typhoid fever, but because the water used to dilute the milk may have come from an infected well, or because the milkman is a carrier of it, having the typhoid himself. Similarly with diphtheria or scarlet fever, but in none of those cases is it infected till it comes into the outer world. In the case of tuberculosis, however, the milk carries the germs of an extremely serious and fatal disease from a cow infected with that disease, and I think that anyone who has had dealings with tuberculous diseases in men would feel that no pains should be spared in preventing the carrying of milk from the cow to man. What has struck me as extraordinary is the difficulty that one, has in getting agreement with agriculturists or dairy people as to the necessity for taking special precautions in regard to tuberculosis. I cannot believe it is due to anything else than want of appreciation of the real danger. I cannot believe that anyone would knowingly sell milk containing tuberculous virus, knowing that, by doing so, he was spreading the disease among the children and the younger members of the community.

I am very glad to see what the Minister has said about tuberculous milk in the Bill, but there are two points which I think would improve matters. In the first place, the Bill says: No person shall knowingly … sell…the milk of a cow suffering from tuberculosis of the udder. That leaves a loophole for evasion which seems to me almost to spoil the value of the Clause, because anyone can say he did not knowingly sell such milk. It is put in here, but it is not allowed to be an excuse in other matters. For instance, a man goes into a restaurant and orders a pie, and eats it, and is taken ill from ptomaine poisoning. He brings the restaurant keeper to book and compels him to pay expenses and damages, although the restaurant keeper undoubtedly sold that diseased pie unknowingly, and I do not see why it should not be just as necessary for a dairyman to know whether his milk does or does not contain tuberculous virus as it is for the restaurant keeper to see that what he sells is not poisoned. I do not, therefore, like this term "knowingly," because it would be very easy for a dairyman to say that he did not know, and I should like the Minister to consider the question whether he should retain that word "knowingly" or not.

The other point I want to make is in regard to the latter part of the Clause, where it says: No person shall knowingly…sell…the milk of a cow suffering from tuberculosis of the udder. Scientifically, that may be quite correct, and I do not believe there is much danger in the milk of a cow, even if it suffer from a general tuberculous disease, unless the udder itself is affected, but I am afraid that, by putting those words in the Bill, you will mislead the farmer, who will concentrate all his attention on the question of whether or not the udder is tuberculous, and so will forget to look to see whether the milk is free from bacilli. This question of tuberculosis in the udder is an extremely difficult one. Diagnosis for tuberculous disease by external handling of an udder is almost impossible, and, in any ease, plenty of expert veterinary evidence would be given in a Court of Law, some saying that the udder was tuberculous, and some saying it was not. I do not believe you would get a conviction, in any case, if something be not said about the im- portant point, namely, whether the milk contains tubercle bacilli. One knows quite easily whether the milk is tuberculous or not by examining it microscopically for tubercle bacilli. The farmer naturally does not do it, but, of course, skilled people can do it, and it can be done quickly, cheaply and accurately by a microscopical examination of the milk. The milk can be examined for a few shillings, and the matter decided absolutely. Of course, if it became a necessary thing to do, there is no doubt that a class of men would very quickly grow up and become quite expert in ascertaining tubercle bacilli.

I would like to see in the Bill after the words "milk of a cow suffering from tuberculosis of the udder," the words "as determined by the presence, of tubercle bacilli in the milk," or else leave out the words referring to the udder, and say "sell, or offer or expose for sale, the milk of a cow containing tubercle bacilli," The danger of partaking of that milk is so great, that it is absolutely essential that information should be obtained by anyone who is selling milk as to whether he is selling milk containing tubercle bacilli. Tuberculous disease of the intestines, bones, joints and so forth in this country is to a great extent due to that particular form of infection which affects the cow, and I cannot imagine a man who is selling milk, knowing these great dangers that arise, not trying, as far as he can, to ascertain whether he is selling milk which contains this terrible poison or not, and if the subject were once organised and became the rule, it could be perfectly, simply and cheaply done. I was talking only the other day with a doctor who had practised in America for some time in one of the States, where very stringent precautions, which are smiled at here, are enforced, and he told me that he had been several years in private practice there, and had constantly visited the large hospitals in the city and immediate neigh bourhood. He had never once all the time he was there seen a case of tuberculous glands in the neck. You have only to go to any hospital in this kingdom, especially children's hospitals, and you will see cases of tuberculous glands in the neck, but in this particular State in America, as the result of the stringent regulations made by the Government in regard to tuberculous milk, that form of tuberculous disease is not in evidence at all. I think that in this respect this country, which for many years was the leading country in all matters of public-health, has fallen behind in this matter. It is the greatest pity in the world that it should be so. What I want to point out here is that you are dealing with one of the most terrible poisons that can be introduced into anyone. If a milkman were to sell milk diluted with arsenic you would say that he was a terrible man and that that was a terrible thing to do— even though it were done accidentally. Why should he be allowed to sell milk filled with tubercle bacilli of the most virulent description? This is a matter that deserves most serious consideration. I am very glad indeed to see the Minister has taken up this matter. He is on the right lines, but I beg him to strengthen the Bill and to think over what I have said about making the demonstration of tubercle bacilli the real test for the regulation of the supply.