Mr. Peak to Mr. Olney.

No. 51.]

Sir: I have received from Mr. George E. Gifford, United States consul at Basle, a letter complaining that the cantonal authorities of Zurich and Schaffhausen, under the guise of sanitary regulations, had interdicted the importations into those cantons of American pork, and requesting my official services in behalf of the merchants whose business has been affected by these orders. I inclose herewith translations of the two orders made by the above-named cantons and a translation of the memorial filed with me by the merchants whose trade has been so seriously threatened.

The Swiss federal law, under which these two orders are professedly made, was designed to prevent the importation and sale of meat treated with borax as preserved or cured meat, but did not prevent its importation or sale as fresh meat. A copy of these laws was transmitted to the Department by Mr. Broadhead in his dispatch No. 67, of date of April 3, 1895.

These orders indicate a clear and unmistakable purpose of hostile discriminations against American pork, and if the statements contained in the inclosed memorial are found to be true such a purpose will be conclusively demonstrated. If it be true, as stated in the memorial, that borax is universally used in the treatment and preparation of pork in Austria, Germany, Italy, and England and Switzerland, and that the pork thus treated is permitted to be sold without objection upon the part of the Swiss authorities, then it will be clearly manifest that the law was passed in the first instance merely to furnish the pretext for the exclusion of American pork.

I have submitted this matter to the Department in order that the Department might, if it should deem it advisable, cause an investigation to be made through the consular service in the countries named as to the truth of the above statements, and after an ascertainment of the facts the Department could adopt such measures as might be deemed best calculated to protect American interests.

I have but little hope of being able to secure any substantial relief through the Swiss federal council in the present attitude of the case, but the effort can be made if thought advisable by the Department. I await the instructions of the Department.

I have, etc.,

John L. Peak.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 51.—Translation of extract from the National Zeitung, November 8, 1896.]

Exclusion of American meats at Zurich.

The Cantonal sanitary department renews its direction to Zurich police authorities charged with the inspection of provisions to bestow their utmost attention on the introduction and sale of foreign meats, especially those of American meats. They [Page 550] are particularly instructed to require proof of the soundness of the merchandise (Gesundheitszenquisse) and to determine the manner in which it has been prepared. In the absence of such proof, or when it is found that borax or other substances have been employed as a preliminary treatment, the shipment shall be seized and sent back to the dealer. Should the examination show a beginning of decomposition the meat is to be destroyed.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 51.—Translation of notice.]

Exclusion of American meats by authorities of Schaffhausen.

On examination of the provisions offered for sale in this city, it has transpired that meats declared as picnic ham (picnic schinken), corned meat (pockelneisch), etc., for the most part of American origin, have been preserved by a preliminary treatment in which substances are used that are directly injurious to the health.

The employment of table salt and saltpeter alone is permitted for the preservation of meat.

The sale of meat otherwise prepared is therefore forbidden,.

Board of Health (Gesundheits Commission).
[Inclosure 3 in No. 51.]

Translation of memorial in regard to the hostile measures taken by the authorities of the Cantons of Zurich and Schaffhausen against the introduction of American salt meats which have been subjected to a preliminary treatment.

Ever since salted or smoked ham has existed there has been a discussion as to the best method of preparing it, and no agreement has ever been reached as to whether the use of salt and saltpeter alone or a mixture of the preservatives is to be preferred. In former years pork was generally pickled or smoked by the raiser in the country and by him marketed, but later the butchers took possession of the trade in this article, once in very limited demand, but now become a leading and indispensable article of consumption.

The primitive method of preserving meat by the use of salt or saltpeter always proved more or less unsatisfactory, and for a long time the attempt to discover a better process was without success. As it was necessary to use saltpeter in connection with salt for the completion of the pickling, the meat acquired in this way an acrid, pungent, disagreeable taste. To find a means of avoiding this unpleasant result was the constant aim of specialists in this branch of business as well as of chemists. In the years from 1870–1880 Dr. Jannasch, of Bernberg, first offered an article especially adapted to the preservation of meat which attracted much attention among German specialists. The essential ingredient of this preparation was borax, and after the authorities had declared its employment permissible its use by butchers, sausage makers, and all who are interested in the salting or preparation of meat, fish, etc., continually increased. Meantime a number of factories were built for the manufacture of curing salts and other means of preserving meats. The basis of all of them was borax.

The employment and effect of borax as a means of curing meat are decidedly different from those of saltpeter. The latter substance forms with the salt a pickle, which completely penetrates the meat, so that the saltpeter remains in the piece after it has been withdrawn from the pickle and smokes. Merchandise treated in this way retains, therefore, no inconsiderable percentage of saltpeter, and, what here is essential, a harsh, unpleasant taste, which impairs its quality and, as we shall show hereafter, renders it unwholesome. With borax and borax preparations it is quite otherwise; the meat, slightly salted, is sprinkled with borax, by which the air is excluded and the meat kept in a state of perfect preservation. The borax lies on the exterior of the piece and can be removed by proper treatment before the merchandise is smoked and offered for consumption, so that only slight traces of it remain. Meat treated with borax has the advantage of being only slightly salted and of having a fresh, agreeable taste. It is clear that the superiority of the treatment with borax, rather than with saltpeter, was everywhere recognized, and to-day butchers and the allied branches of trade universally make use of borax and borax preparations, not only in Germany, Austria, Italy, and America, but also in Switzerland.

Meats introduced into Switzerland from Austria (ham, kaiserfleisch, corresstucke, [Page 551] schopfbraten), Italy (bacon, salami, martadella, etc.), Germany (Westphalia bam, gothaercervelatwurst, other sausage, and bacon), England (Yorkshire ham, etc.), and America (ham, corned meat), are, with few exceptions, treated with borax preparations; and in Switzerland itself the ham and other pork contain more or less borax, according to the season of the year.

It is true that the question has come up whether meat having undergone a preliminary treatment is unwholesome, and this question has been discussed by the chemical experts occupied in examining provisions. So far no proof founded on facts has been offered that the health of any human being has been in the least degree impaired by eating meat that has been treated with borax. Prof. Dr. Bischoff, official chemical expert for provisions in Berlin, who is regarded as an authority on this subject, has repeatedly declared, as the result of many years’ experience, that the meat treated with borax is absolutely wholesome. The same opinion has been expressed by the Liverpool board of health, the English naval office, the sanitary authorities of Brussels, and many other states and cities. The best proof, however, that the process in question is not harmful lies in the fact that during the twenty-four years since borax has been employed and the fifteen years since its use has been universal no man’s life or health has suffered injury or peril in consequence.

The like favorable judgment can not be formed in regard to the treatment of meat with saltpeter. Not only does the pork receive the acrid, unpleasant taste already mentioned, but it loses a part of its value as nourishment, it having been shown that the frequent use of salt meat works injury by disturbing the digestion.

Under these circumstances it is astonishing to find that the authorities of two Swiss Cantons—Zurich and Schaffhausen—have absolutely forbidden the sale of meat preserved by borax. The proscriptions of the Zurich authorities contain no indications of the grounds of the exclusion, but suggest that it is the American meats that are aimed at. The board of health of Schaffhausen expresses itself more clearly, and says: “The sale of meat, picnic ham, corned meat, principally of American origin, is forbidden because they are injurious to the health”

We see from the decrees of both Cantons that the measures of exclusion are directed against meat of American origin. Both say that the employment of salt and saltpeter for the curing of meat is authorized. It would be difficult for the Schaffhausen board of health to bring the shadow of a proof for its declaration that meats treated with borax are directly injurious to the health. So long as no facts are cited as proof, we must reject this assertion as utterly devoid of foundation. Still more singular is the regulation appearing in both decrees that only table salt and saltpeter shall be employed. We should like to ask both the authorities in question, especially those of Schaffhausen, if they really believe that saltpeter is a harmless means of preserving food. It is difficult to believe that the answer would be in the affirmative.

For persons engaged in the trade the affair presents itself in this way: The producers of salt meats are to be forced to prepare their merchandise with saltpeter, according to a method long since rejected, and thus obtain a product of inferior quality which can be sold with difficulty at reduced prices. A further disadvantage connected with the process prescribed by the officials mentioned is that in the opinion of the best chemical experts the saltpeter to be used is directly injurious to the health. So it could easily happen that while Zurich forbids borax and prescribes saltpeter, Berne might forbid saltpeter and prescribe borax. The regulations issued by the two Cantons would, under existing circumstances, be completely unintelligible were it not that a simple solution to the riddle is afforded by their common reference to “meats principally from America.” At any rate, American producers are forced to observe the regulations and prepare their meat in such a way as to obtain an inferior product of difficult sale and drenched with saltpeter; then will be obtained what, after all, is no doubt the chief purpose in view—an insurmountable obstacle to the importation of American meat.

But the principal point in the whole matter is this: The proscriptions and prohibitions of Cantonal or Federal Government neither ought to nor can be other than of a general nature; that is to say, we may not make regulations in regard to the products of a country with which we are on friendly terms that do not apply to the producers of other countries also. Yet this is here the case, for while meats treated with borax are introduced from Italy, Austria, Germany, and other countries with practically no limitation, like American products are forbidden; nay, we learn on the best authority that the officials charged with the inspection of meats expressly refuse to extend their researches for borax to the products of the countries mentioned. It is further to be considered that the domestic products are subject to no control as to the use of borax.

We are not called upon here to discuss the legal aspect of the question. We are convinced that the American Government and its officials, as in former instances, will take energetic measures to secure for American products in Switzerland the same treatment as that accorded to those of other countries.