to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Paris, December 26, 1883. (Received January 10, 1884.)
Sir: The action of those opposed to the free admission of American pork has produced such a result that all the efforts made by this legation during many months to obtain an entirely satisfactory settlement of this vexed question are likely to prove fruitless.
About two weeks ago Mr. Gaudin, a deputy from Nantes, the center of the French pork-packing business, introduced in the House a bill providing for a system of inspection of all salted pork coming from abroad. This bill, which is substantially the same as the one voted by the Chamber last year, but defeated in the Senate, and of which I sent a translation to the Department with my No. 146 of March 31, 1882, was referred to a committee, where it was expected to remain without being acted upon by the committee.
A few days ago, quite unexpectedly, Mr. Paul Bert, formerly a member of Mr. Gambetta’s cabinet and a scientist of note, asked the Government in the Chamber to suspend the operation of the decree of November 27, again admitting the free importation of American pork, until the Chamber should have acted upon the bill introduced by Mr. Gaudin. Mr. Paul Bert grounded his request on motives of public health; he described in vivid terms the fearful consequences of an epidemic of trichinosis, and asserted that he knew from his own personal experiments as well as by those made by others that trichinae did not exist in French pork and did exist in foreign pork.
Mr. Herisson, the minister of commerce, replied to Mr. Paul Bert that the Government could not comply with his request; that its action in the matter had been duly considered, and that he and his colleagues were satisfied that the free importation of American pork would not be attended with any danger to the public health.
This plain and unequivocal answer did not satisfy Mr. Paul Bert, who moved to interpellate the Government on the question. The interpellation [Page 129] was granted, and it came before the House on Saturday last, the 22d instant.
Mr. Paul Bert repeated his request to suspend the operation of the decree canceling the one prohibiting American pork until some definite action be taken by the Chamber, and submitted the following order of the day:
“The Chamber considering that it is proper to delay the admission of American pork until after the debate upon the bill now pending, passes to the order of the day.”
Mr. Herisson declared that he was obliged to oppose this order of the day; that, as stated before, the Government had acted only after mature deliberation, and upon the advice of the Academy of Medicine; that not a single case of trichinosis had been detected either in England, in Belgium, and in Switzerland, where American pork is freely introduced, or in France when free importation was the rule; that the epidemic of trichinosis, which recently appeared in Germany, was known to have been caused by German pork, and that consequently there was no good reason to recall a measure which was satisfactory to so many people and open to so little objection.
Mr. Paul Bert said that the facts stated by the minister were not as conclusive as he supposed they were; that trichinosis was not easily detected; that its diagnosis was exactly the same as typhoid fever, and that it was very likely that many people had died of it without the cause being made known; and that, contrary to an opinion generally shared, salt did not kill the trichinae, nor did the cooking except when the boiling of the meat is carried to 70° centigrade. In short, he believed the danger arising from the free admission of foreign pork was very great, and he thought it would be very unwise not to regulate in some way its importation into France.
Finally, after a long debate, in which the same arguments were asserted and reasserted in many shapes, the question came to a vote, and the order of the day, proposed by Mr. Paul Bert, was carried by 272 votes against 153.
It is but simple justice to state that Mr. Herisson earnestly opposed every effort of Mr. Paul Bert and of his associates in behalf of the French hog raisers and packers. It is admitted openly that public health has little bearing upon the subject in its present stage; it is simply now a question of protection.
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I have, &c.,
To comply with the vote of the Chamber it was decided yesterday in cabinet council to prohibit the free importation of American pork until parliamentary action is taken in the matter. In the mean time American pork will be admitted at the ports of Havre, Bordeaux, and Nantes, where an examination of the meat will take place under the control and at the expense of the Chambers of Commerce of those places.
This measure is satisfactory to the French importers, but the protectionists will probably oppose it, as many of the members of the Chamber of Commerce are interested in making the inspection as easy as possible. It is to be feared, therefore, that the propriety of this measure will be questioned in the Chamber.[Page 130]
The department of commerce contemplates the introduction of a new bill providing for a system of inspection.
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The National of last night, speaking of this bill (the one recently introduced into Congress for the purpose of empowering the President to prohibit the importation of articles injurious to public health from countries which on the same ground prohibit American products), says “it was at first directed against Germany only; but that, in consequence of the recent vote of the Chamber postponing the removal of the restriction on American pork, France will now have to take her place by the side, of Germany, and be equally made the victim of these reprisals. Owing to the order of the day of Mr. Paul Bert, French products are going to be driven out from America. It belongs to the Government to take steps as early as possible to prevent an eventuality which would be so damaging to French commerce.”