Mr. Sargent to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Berlin, January 13, 1883. (Received February 19.)
Sir: I have the honor to state that an interesting debate occurred at the session of the Reichstag on the 9th instant, upon the mooted prohibition of the importation of American pigs and pork by decree of the Bundesrath, of which I inclose a full report, without translation. This debate arose upon an interpellation addressed to the chancellor by Herr Richter on behalf of the Progressist party, a copy of which is given in my dispatch No. 87, of December 18, 1882.
Herr Richter opened the debate by saying that the interpellation is in the interest of a large circle of poor people. He showed how injurious the previous prohibition of American sausages and chopped meat had been, and dwelt upon the entire lack of any effort by the chancellor to collect or present any evidence of the unsoundness of American pork, or that any diseases had been engendered by its consumption. He alluded to proofs accessible that cases of trichinosis observed arise from the use of German chopped meat fresh from the butcher. The only source of information of the chancellor was a document written probably as an advertisement * * * and full of sensational stories. Goulard is himself quoted in the chancellor’s memorial as an authority; yet the witness would not be for a total exclusion, but for a prohibition only of such importation as he did not profit by. A collection of the advertisements of the Golden 110” (a cheap clothing store in Berlin) would be as good evidence in New York of the condition of German trade as this circular is here of any fact in American production. On such flimsy evidence was a measure proposed that would cut deep into German food relations. He denied that American pork furnishes only three per cent, of the German meat food, and that the deficiency could be easily made up otherwise, for in some parts of Germany the imports represent a very considerable percentage of meat nourishment. Consumers of beef might eat a small percentage of pork, but the poor classes used it wholly, and it was a large percentage of their subsistence. A food association of mining workmen near Aix states that 80 kilograms of American meat are used per head every year. Often the piece of American bacon is the only animal food in the dish which the wife brings to her husband for his noon meal at his place of work. Already the high price of American products causes the Westphalian workman to subsist on the refuse of sausage factories, or go without animal food. The short maize crop had raised the price of American pork, but a good harvest would put this food cheaply in the reach of the German poor.
He also challenged the right of the Bundesrath to make the prohibition under the tariff law of 1869, its only pretense of authority, which gives only the right of temporary suspension in cases of emergency. The whole speech was admirable and convincing.
Upon its conclusion, and as if to close the discussion, the ministerial director, Marcard, arose and answered the interpellation at once, not responding to any of the propositions of law or fact propounded, but declaring that the Bundesrath was still investigating the matter and had come to no conclusion, and no one had a right to announce its [Page 329] intentions in advance; that its decision would undoubtedly be laid before the Reichstag after it was arrived at.
Deputy Kapp was not disposed to have the interpellation so easily disposed of. He declared that the proposition of the Bundesrath is based on the allegation that American pork is dangerous, and the proof of this is not furnished. The Bundesrath had not obtained sufficient information. This it could have easily done, for the American Government had published the result of official investigations, especially the collective experience of Chicago and Cincinnati. The business amounted in 1880 to 100,799,414 tons. So great a trade could not take place unless it were conducted on the most conscientious and scientific principles. The continuation of the trade was only guaranteed by furnishing the best article. He regretted that so high an official as State Secretary Burchard had promulgated such a groundless assertion as that cholera had broken out among American pigs, and had therefore demanded prohibition for sanitary reasons. Competent judges would have told him that cholera only affects young swine, which are never sent to market, as they pay too little. These also, when dead from disease, decompose so soon that it is not possible to turn them into lard, and the pigs are used for grease and soap. He showed the care used in feeding and handling American pigs. He thought no one would be surprised at the manipulations of Messrs. G——. It would not be surprising if these gentlemen spread a report that they had been spoken of by the Reichstag with high praise. A decisive question with him was, Is it desirable to disturb the good relations with the American Government, which is engaged in reducing the tariff? Were this proposal now the law the working classes would be less physically able to serve the Fatherland. He trusted the council of state would abandon the injurious step.
The chancellor, Prince Bismarck, arrived during this speech to announce certain relief proposed by the Emperor for the flooded districts. He made a few incidental remarks upon the interpellation, and called pork “the poor man’s trichina.” He excused himself on the plea of ill health from speaking at length, and for that reason denied himself the pleasure of refutation. His remarks show that he was not moved by the arguments and facts presented by the opposition and had no disposition to relax his purpose to secure the exclusion of American pork products. * * *
When the debate was resumed Dr. Frege spoke in favor of exclusion, saying the speech of Mr. Kapp was entirely in the American to the exclusion of German interests. He believed the great quantity of hogs slaughtered made it impossible to eliminate the disease. The German poor were not dependent on this food, as this pork is only 3 per cent. of their food.
Secretary Burchard defended his statement as to the danger from hog cholera by citations from the New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, stating that the business is no longer a clean one, and alluding generally to scientific opinion.
Bundescommissioner Dr. Köhler asserted that it is established that, for instance, in Dresden, 10 per cent, of the American hams had trichinosis. Similar instances occurred in Magdeburg, Brunswick, Geestemünde, &c. The health officials have also announced that 3, 5, and 8 per cent. have trichinosis, and that pickling and smoking are not sufficient to destroy this. There are cases of fatal sickness as the result of eating this meat, especially at Bremen, Bostock, &c. He doubted if distress to the poorer classes would arise from exclusion, which would be a [Page 330] grave matter, but the duty of the Government is first to prevent dangerous articles from being imported.
Dr. Barth said he was not convinced by anything that had been said that there was danger from American meats. He carefully refuted the statements of the previous speaker in regard to the prevalence and consequences of trichinosis in American pork, and said the consumers of the food petitioned against prohibition, and the only ones in favor of it are the Bundesrath and some interested hog breeders.
In France and Austria-Hungary the prohibition was imposed before the investigation by the American Government. In the latter country it is about to be taken off. If Germany now imposed it, after the investigation, it would act very offensively to the American Government, and drive them to reprisals, such as there were in 1872 on the part of the United States against France. Deputy Kapp did not, as Deputy Frege charged him, serve American, but German interests, as he warned them before such reprisals. The danger which the use of brandy brings with it is immeasurably greater than that evoked by the use of American pork. In the Berlin hospital in 1878–’79 there were 623 persons suffering from chronic alcoholism, of which 40 died. Yet nobody would deduce from that the necessity of forbidding the use of alcohol. In the interest of the relations with America, of the laboring classes and commerce, he invoked further serious test by the Bundesrath before excluding American pork.
Deputy Ahlhorn said the working classes are accustomed to this food. He had collected many reports and made many investigations, but not a single case had been authenticated whose sickness has been the result of using American lard or bacon. If this measure is deemed necessary it should be brought before the Reichstag for legislation. It is a question of the indispensable food for the poor man, who is already injured by the new taxes.
Here the debate on the interpellation closed. The vigor with which it was waged by the opponents of the measure, and the fact that very serious interests, commercial and others, are affected by it may have the effect of preventing the decree, though I am not sanguine of that at this writing.
I have, &c.,