White-Bread Eaters to Exchange One Poison for Another

By the Whole Food Society of England

Summary: A British perspective on the bleaching of flour in the year 1955. At that time, a new flour bleach, chlorine dioxide, was being introduced because the old bleach, nitrogen trichloride, or agene, had been shown to clearly be a nerve toxin in dogs. The authors point out that the official ban of agene came ten years after the results of the dog experiment were made known and five years after an announcement by the country’s Ministries of Food and Health officially condemning the substance. Why the long delay between identifying agene as a poison and barring it from the market? Simple, the article says: the millers needed time to come up with a new bleach. Rather than putting public health at the forefront and discontinuing the practice of flour bleaching altogether, the government and milling industry decided to continue the process because bleaching makes flour look appealing. Thus, after feeding the public for decades an additive whose safety had always been questionable, a new questionable additive was selected, and the bleached-flour industry kept rolling right along. From The Farmer, 1955Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 78.

[The following is a transcription of the original Archives document. To view or download the original document, click here.]

White-Bread Eaters to Exchange One Poison for Another

Nitrogen Trichloride, Used To Bleach National and White Flours, Is To Be Replaced This Year by Another Bleaching Agent[spacer height=”20px”]

The ministries of health and food jointly announced on January 27th, 1950, that the use of agene-nitrogen trichloride would be discontinued at an unspecified date, and would be replaced by chlorine dioxide. The recommendations came from a scientific committee which, under the chairmanship of Sir Wilson Jameson, chief medical officer of the Ministry of Health, had been investigating the effects of agene. The Ministries’ scientific committee, however, stated that it was satisfied that if a loaf acceptable to the general public was to be produced some form of ‘”improver” must continue to be used. This was strange coming from Ministries which had spared no effort of propaganda and compulsion to effect unacceptable changes in the national diet. It is difficult, also, to understand how the committee satisfied itself on this point: the general public was not represented on it, although the flour millers were. They, through the effects of a subsidy mechanism which operates in their favour, can point to an enormous demand for an “improved” loaf—a demand from a general public which has had little real opportunity to try the alternative of unadulterated bread.

Five Years Approved Poisoning

Only now is the ban on agene to be implemented (by the end of 1955) over five years after the official announcement condemning it and nearly ten years since it was first found to be a powerful nerve poison to dogs.

Because the new alternative bleach could not easily be put into use, the banned agene has continued to be used in spite of its known danger. Nervous diseases in man have increased. Dogs have continued to eat biscuits and tinned food treated with agene; hysteria, paralysis and various nervous conditions are more widespread among dogs whose owners are not careful to buy from the limited sources of chemical-free foods. What of the likely alternative bleacher which is to be used? Just as was claimed for nitrogen trichloride not many years ago—the scientific committee, in recommending the new chemical, stated that extensive tests have shown that it causes no toxic symptoms in animals or man. There is no indication that these tests were extended to people who do not usually eat chemicalized flour. How many more generations must slowly develop stomach ulcers, coronary thrombosis, poliomyelitis or multiple sclerosis before commercial gain is made secondary to national health?

From the Press reports, it might appear that the millers were reluctant to make any change, and that they had now made public-spirited (and very well publicized) acceptance, of chlorine dioxide.

A glance at the technical literature will suggest other possibilities. In the 1948 edition of Lockwood’s Flour Milling we find:

“Chlorine dioxide (Addage process)—The use of chlorine dioxide is a fairly new departure in flour treatment. Chlorine dioxide is more powerful than nitrogen trichloride; the quantities used are one-third to half those of nitrogen trichloride. Chlorine dioxide not only oxidizes the flour pigment but also has a valuable bleaching effect on the colouring matter of bran, which makes it particularly valuable for bleaching very low grade flours.”

So it would appear that white flour millers have every reason to welcome chlorine dioxide, which they could not get without an allocation of dollars. It is possible that the delay in publication of the scientific committee’s findings was due to the millers’ nightmare of being left without a bleacher? Could it be that there were hurried consultations with the Treasury, and an “understanding” about dollars, before the millers accepted the recommendation?

The Consumer’s Interests

In these days of pressure groups of various kinds, the legitimate interests of the ordinary consumer tend to be lost sight of. He is bombarded with propaganda and not given much time to think whether he would be better nourished if his food were left alone, and often enjoys only the luxury of paying twice for things he does not need at all. Although a minority may already know, from personal experience, that the increase in certain diseases is closely related to the ingestion of foods treated with chemicals, the majority will have to wait until the controlled experiments break through the iron curtain of vested interests.

In the meantime, we all continue to contribute twice towards our degeneration: once to the subsidy for a national Bread which is causing disease, and again to a subsidy for a National Health Service which is trying vainly to stem the havoc wrought by the first.

The Observer of January 29th, 1950, ended its Comment on the matter with these words: “The time is ripe for a medical inquiry into the whole subject.”

What Can Be Done?

We shall press for such an inquiry and we shall continue to give the widest possible publicity to food adulteration and manipulation but we cannot do much without the active support of consumers.

The above is based on an article in Wholefood in 1950, by Derek Randal.

Will you give to all your friends copies of this journal drawing their attention to this information. If so we will help you by supplying copies, 8 at a time for the reduced price of 10/- for 8 copies. The dangers of poisoned bread are so great and the matter so urgent your friends will surely be grateful for our joint effort.

The Mellanby Broadcast

The late Sir Edward Mellanby, K.C.B., M.D., F.R.S., former Secretary of the Medical Research Council, broadcast in a BBC scientific programme on January 27th, 1950—the date the official banning of agene was first announced. His observations were re-produced at that time in Wholefood and we feel it worth repeating them.

Sir Edward spoke immediately following a feature describing how scientists proved that agenised flour was poisonous to dogs and said:

“Important advances in knowledge have taken place since this discovery was originally made. (See British Medical Journal, 14/12/46.) The poisonous agent has been found. When the protein of agenised flour is digested it is broken up, and the poisonous agent was found in one of these products of digestion. In the past few weeks it has been isolated as a pure crystalline substance, and we now know it to be a derivative of an amino acid of protein called methionine and it is very poisonous indeed.

“Although there is no evidence as yet that agenised flour is harmful to man, it may well have some such action when eaten over long periods of time. During the last 50 years there has been an apparent increase in this country of a number of diseases, especially of abdominal conditions such as gastric and duodenal ulcers and appendicitis, of which the origin is very obscure. Since it is during this period that the chemical treatment of food has become so common, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether there may not be some relationship between the two facts. Also, there is a general belief that among peasant people living in other countries on more natural foods, these abdominal conditions are almost unknown, and this, of course, tends to increase the impression that, from the point of view of public health, the subject is one of great importance.

“As regards the wider implications of this discovery, it may be noted that some foods, such as milk and butter, are not allowed by law to suffer chemical additions by anybody. There is indeed a Government machinery for watching over the chemical adulteration of food, but this control leaves still much freedom to manufacture, and, especially since the war, there has grown up an enormous amount of food treatment by chemicals. It is probably no exaggeration to say that cakes, for instance, especially when purchased, may contain any one or more of dozens of chemicals which have been added either as artificial colouring agents, anti-staleing agents, or shorteners. These are put in to give those properties which were formerly obtained in days of greater abundance by the addition of butter and other fats. Many of these substances may be harmful—we simply do not know—and it is high time that the public, who are the consumers, should be better protected. There is no excuse for the addition of possible harmful agents, even if these additions make the food more pleasant and palatable.

“The discovery of the toxicity of the Agene process ought also to make the public more vigilant of this wider problem of food adulteration by chemicals. It must, however, be remembered that certain chemicals are added to food, not for its aesthetic improvement, but in order to benefit nutrition. Thus, the addition of calcium carbonate to flour, of vitamins A and D to margarine, and of potassium iodide to common salt are essential steps in the improvement of the general health and physique of the population.

“Finally, I should suggest that some enterprising millers and bakers should place on the market and should thoroughly inform the public of a flour of the type at present in use, which has received no chemical treatment. They would probably be surprised at the great demand that might well be made by the ordinary consumer for this more natural and safer product.”

The last prediction has, as we all know, proved to be quite correct and wholewheat bread is now available in almost every town and most good restaurants and cafes (though it is regretted that much of it is still only
brown” reconstituted bread).

The Whole Food Society advocates unadulterated food fresh from fertile soil, making a complete diet which renders unnecessary all forms of interference, including “fortification,” and all partialization processes, including even part-extraction of flour, which it believes are harmful in some degree often in ways we do not yet understand.

Author unknown. Reprinted from The Farmer, Spring 1955, by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research. 

Reprint No. 78
Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research
Milwaukee Wisconsin

Note: Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research is a nonprofit, public-service institution, chartered to investigate and disseminate nutritional information. The attached publication is not literature or labeling for any product, nor shall it be employed as such by anyone. In accordance with the right of freedom of the press guaranteed to the Foundation by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the attached publication is issued and distributed for informational purposes.


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