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Food Poisoning, Policy and Politics

Food Poisoning, Policy and Politics: Corned Beef and Typhoid in Britain in the 1960s

David F. Smith
H. Lesley Diack
T. Hugh Pennington
Elizabeth M. Russell
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 348
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  • Book Info
    Food Poisoning, Policy and Politics
    Book Description:

    The problem of food poisoning and food-borne infections is currently one of vigorous debate, highlighted since the 1980s by numerous outbreaks and scares involving salmonella in lettuce and eggs, listeria in cheese, the links between vCJD and BSE, E.Coli 0157 in cooked meats, and foot and mouth disease. Yet, as this book shows, the various issues involved were important as early as 1963/4, when there were serious typhoid outbreaks in Harlow, South Shields, Bedford, and Aberdeen, traced to contaminated corned beef imported from Argentina. Based upon extensive research, using archives which have only recently become available, private papers, and interviews as well as secondary literature, the book analyses the course of the outbreak and looks at the responses of politicians, officials, health professionals, business interests, the media and the public. It also considers the difficult issue of the weighing of food safety against international trade and other business and economic interests; conflicts between government departments; rivalry between professionals such as doctors and veterinarians; the effects upon and influence of victims and local communities; and the conduct of and responses to an official enquiry. Overall, it draws out generic lessons for how such epidemics should be handled, adding an historical perspective to contemporary debates.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-395-2
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface and acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-xi)
    David F. Smith
  5. Abbreviations used in text
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Abbreviations used in footnotes
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. 1 The earlier history of typhoid and food poisoning
    (pp. 1-37)

    Through an exploration of the Aberdeen typhoid outbreak of 1964, and three smaller outbreaks in England in 1963, and related episodes, this book aims to provide insights of potential relevance to matters of current worldwide public, political and medical concern: food poisoning and food safety. In all four incidents, the source of infection was traced to corned beef contaminated during manufacture in Argentina. The handling of the outbreaks, the conduct of the enquiry that followed and its consequences, the disposal of the suspect corned beef, and action in Argentina, together provide a window on the complex processes of food safety...

  8. 2 The 1963 corned beef-associated typhoid outbreaks in Harlow, South Shields and Bedford
    (pp. 38-57)

    In Chapter 1, we learned that during 1949 in Crowthorne there had been an outbreak of typhoid that had been definitely connected with canned corned beef as the vehicle of infection, although it appears that no one thought at that time that the infection could have been in the can before opening. In 1955, however, the investigation that followed an outbreak of typhoid associated with tongue in Pickering suggested that canned meat could be contaminated during manufacture by impure cooling water entering the can through a temporary leak. In addition, in 1962, a published review of food poisoning in England...

  9. 3 The Aberdeen typhoid outbreak
    (pp. 58-95)

    During the Aberdeen typhoid outbreak, the Director of Aberdeen university’s student health service, Harold Worth, recorded in a letter to the BMJ details of the illnesses of two female students, the first typhoid cases. According to Worth, on Tuesday, 12 May 1964, one student visited her doctor complaining of a carbuncle on her back and was taken into residential medical accommodation at Crombie hall of residence. The following day the carbuncle was clearing, but the student developed a fever and her temperature was 103°F by the Thursday. Her flatmate sickened and, on Friday 15 May, with a temperature of 104°F,...

  10. 4 The medical officer of health, the media and the public in the Aberdeen typhoid outbreak
    (pp. 96-126)

    This chapter expands the account of the local dimensions of the Aberdeen typhoid outbreak, and focuses upon the media role of the MOH, Ian MacQueen. It provides further insights into the actions of the health and welfare department, especially in terms of advising the public, and gives some indications of the experiences of Aberdeen’s population. We will explore MacQueen’s involvement with the media largely by examining the coverage that arose from his press conferences, held once or twice daily from 22 May to 19 June, but will also refer to some oral history and archival evidence. We will concentrate upon...

  11. 5 Ministers, officials and the Aberdeen typhoid outbreak
    (pp. 127-157)

    In Chapter 3 we referred to some of the interactions between officials of the SHHD and personnel in Aberdeen. In this chapter we will initially consider some further activities of SSHD officials, particularly their efforts to understand the epidemiology of the outbreak. We will also consider their involvement, with other civil servants and their ministers, in dealing with additional aspects of the outbreak, including the identification of the origin of the corned beef, and subsequent action.

    We will see that once the probable source of the outbreak was admitted, much work was done on formulating and presenting explanations for past...

  12. 6 The Milne Committee of Enquiry
    (pp. 158-198)

    The analysis of an enquiry such as that on the Aberdeen typhoid outbreak, which looked into a wide variety of issues and evidence, is daunting. Ideally, we might aim initially for a comprehensive understanding of how the findings were arrived at, but this approach is compromised by the incompleteness of the records, the impossibility of interviewing some actors, and the size of the task. Over four months, the committee took oral evidence during fourteen days, and received evidence from 104 witnesses, as detailed in Table 6.1.¹ The report is wide-ranging. Seventy-six pages long, it is organised into three parts, thirty-nine...

  13. 7 The recommendation on the inspection of overseas meat plants: The roles of existing policy agendas, and interdepartmental and inter-professional tensions
    (pp. 199-219)

    Three recommendations in the Milne report concerned the system whereby Britain protected itself against the importation of human disease in meat and meat products. One suggested the development of an international inspectorate, and Willie Ross, Secretary of State for Scotland, reported in December 1965 that further consideration of this would await a report on meat and meat products by the WHO/FAO Codex Alimentarius Commission.¹ The briefing document that the officials prepared for ministers showed that while they were happy for the commission to develop international standards, they were sceptical about, and uninterested in, the possibility of its replacing national inspectorates.²...

  14. 8 The disposal of suspect canned meat: The priority of politics over technical advice
    (pp. 220-252)

    In September 1964, at their session with Liebig’s representatives, the Milne Committee expressed the hope that reprocessing suspect stock, and the reassurance that new stock was produced safely, would rehabilitate corned beef.¹ The committee subsequently recommended that withdrawn produce could be ‘released for sale in the normal way’ after ‘an acceptable method of reprocessing’.² At that time, research on reprocessing was nearing completion, and in his statement the Secretary of State for Scotland said that consultations with the trade about reprocessing were underway.³

    There were about 8000 tons of suspect stockpile material, but the pressing problem was disposing of commercial...

  15. 9 British action to encourage improvements in Argentine meat hygiene, 1964 to 1969
    (pp. 253-286)

    The visit to South America in early 1964 of Leo Grace, MAFF’s chief technical adviser on meat inspection, not only showed that two plants were using untreated water. Grace was also shocked by the run-down and unhygienic state of most meat plants, and the disorganisation of the inspection service. Attempts by the British to apply pressure upon the South American governments to remedy this situation were not underway by the time of the Aberdeen outbreak, but the matter was pursued soon afterwards. The Milne Committee recommended that ‘the hygienic requirements to be observed by establishments exporting meat and meat products...

  16. 10 Summary and conclusions, and food safety since 1964
    (pp. 287-309)

    After the historical introduction to typhoid and food poisoning in Chapter 1, we began the examination of government policy making in connection with the typhoid outbreaks in Chapter 2, which continued in chapters 5 to 9. The first observation we may make from these chapters is that the process of constructing and implementing policy was often very complicated. Several ministries, several divisions within ministries, and a variety of other actors were often involved. Rarely, if ever, did action follow directly and unproblematically from scientific or technical principles, or suppositions concerning risk, or even evidence of actual food-related disease. Decisions on...

  17. Appendix: Recommendations of the Milne Committee
    (pp. 310-311)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 312-320)
  19. Index
    (pp. 321-334)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-335)