Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, July 12, 2007


Page 15



Merchants’, Manufacturers’ Assn. Acts to Safeguard Quality of Milk




There is probably no food the wholesomeness of which is more crucial than milk…“nature’s perfect food,” essential for the nourishment of children and healthful for consumption by adults. Yet, back in horse-and-wagon days, milk, like other farm products, was frequently adulterated by the time it reached consumers in the city.

Indeed, prior to enactment of the federal Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, sale of all sorts of foods containing impurities was rampant, despite existing state laws aimed at assuring purity.

When the directors of the Merchants’ & Manufacturers’ Assn. of Los Angeles met on April 26, 1897, there was no inkling of the role that the M & M would come to play in bringing about earnest local governmental attention to safeguarding the quality of milk. What came under discussion at that meeting was the matter of what stances should be taken by the group’s representative to a Pure Food Congress to be held in San Francisco four days from then.

Fresh in memory of the directors were sales in San Francisco of fruit products found to have been mislabeled, including blackberry jam colored with toxic dyes. Although a consensus was not reached as to any particular marching orders that should be given, there was general agreement that some strengthening of the pure food requirements was needed.

At the May 24, 1897 board meeting, the group’s secretary, William H. Knight, read a report from the M & M’s delegate to that conference, James B. Lankershim. (A key developer in the San Fernando Valley, he’s the entrepreneur after whom Lankershim Boulevard is named.)

The Times’s issue of May 26 contains a summary of Lankershim’s report. It tells of a government reform effort in San Francisco that started with milk inspection, succeeding “so well that one can now get pure milk and cream” there. The article continues:

“The health authorities then determined to carry the work further and examine the food on the shelves of the retail merchants. They found a great deal of adulteration in food products. It is true that many of these adulterations are harmless as far as health is concerned, and it is suggested that such articles be sold provided the names of all ingredients were printed on the packages. Mr. Lankershim thinks that by enforcing the present laws on the statute books in regard to the adulteration of food the producer will be benefited, he will be encouraged to put a purer article on the market, and as a matter of course it will be better for the consumer.”

Milk inspection was already required by ordinance in Los Angeles. But in looking into the level of enforcement of the ordinance, the M & M quickly determined that it was laggardly.

Knight transmitted to the City Council an M & M resolution declaring that “it has been publicly and clearly demonstrated that the city ordinance relating to the quality of milk that shall be sold and dispensed in our city is being daily disobeyed, and… the executive officer appointed by the Board of Health has been and is derelict in the duties imposed upon him” by the ordinance.

The M & M called upon the mayor, the City Council, and the Board of Health to take action.

The city was quick to get cracking. (How often could that statement be applied these days to responses by our city’s bureaucrats?)

On July 12, the council referred the M & M’s communication to the Board of Health. The board met on Aug. 9 and heard an explanation from Meat and Milk Inspector George K. Dodson. By then, the M & M had uncovered that a mere 65 milk samples had been taken over the past three-month period, and from only 41 of the city’s 167 licensed dairies.

Dodson told the board members that it was his job, and his alone, to inspect slaughter-houses, restaurants, and markets, as well as dairies. He noted that some licensed dairies had but one cow and peddled milk only to households in the neighborhood. No one man could make a comprehensive survey, he asserted.

The council, on Aug. 16, received a report from the board recommending a beefing up of the milk ordinance. For example, it urged that butter fats be at 3.4 percent of the volume; that cream comprise no less than 9 percent; and that water not exceed 87.5 percent. The council approved the standards, and instructed the city attorney to draft the amended ordinance.

Two days later, five restaurateurs were arrested, on complaint of the Board of Health, for serving watered milk.

A new meat and milk inspector was appointed by the City Council on Nov. 15. The following year, each dairy had to reregister, and anyone selling milk without a license was subject to an arrest on the spot.

Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company

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