13 Chapter 13: GERMAN SODIUM NITRITE APPEARS AS CURING AGENT IN THE USA – ingredients for deceit

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Union Stock Yard, Chicago, USA, C 1920

Then arrived 1925 and everything seems to change as sodium nitrite became available through the Griffith Laboratories in a curing mix for the meat industry.  They described Prague Salt and how they came upon the concept in official company documents as follows, “The mid-twenties were significant to Griffith as it had been studying closely a German technique of quick-curing meats.  Short on manpower and time, German meat processors began curing meats using Nitrite with salt instead of slow-acting saltpeter, potassium nitrate. This popular curing compound was known as “Prague Salt.”  (Griffith Laboratories Worldwide, Inc.)

In Canada, Prague Salt was classified as food adulteration.  A progress report from the Canadian department of agriculture in 1925 lists the fact that “one sample of ” Prague ” salt” was tested and it was found to contain “5.87 % of potassium nitrite.” It calls it an adulteration.  (Progress Report for the Years  Canada. Dept. of Agriculture. Division of Chemistry, 1912)

In 1925 in the USA however, the fortunes of nitrite seem to change overnight.  If the courts continue to find against the use of an ingredient in food that is seen as a food adulteration, the easiest way to solve the problem is to change the law.

In Oct 1925 the American Bureau of Animal Industries legalised the use of sodium nitrite as a curing agent for meat.

In December of the same year (1925) the Institute of American Meat Packers, created by the large packing plants in Chicago, published the document. The use of sodium Nitrite in Curing Meats.

A key player suddenly emerge onto the scene in the Griffith Laboratories, based in Chicago and very closely associated with the powerful meat packing industry.  In that same year (1925) Hall was appointed as chief chemist by the Griffith Laboratories and Griffith started to import a mechanically mixed salt from Germany consisting of sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite and sodium chloride, which they called “Prague Salt.”

Probably the biggest of the powerful meat packers was the company created by Phil Armour.  More than any other company in that time, Armour’s reach was global.  It was said that Phil had an eye on developments in every part of the globe.  (The Saint Paul Daily Globe, 10 May 1896, p2) He passed away in 1901 (The Weekly Gazette, 9 Jan 1901), but the business empire and network that he created must have endured long enough to have been aware of developments in Prague in the 1910’s and early 20’s.

Could one of the offers of employment that Ladislav received before 1926 have been from Armour or one of the other meat packers in Chicago?

Griffith Laboratories is formed in the year following the armistice in 1919.  This is the same year when the United Kingdom starts selling its sodium nitrite stockpile.  Two years later, even cheaper German and Norwegian sodium nitrite start arriving in the USA.  In response to this, import duties are levied against German sodium nitrite.

By April 1921, the import duties have been bolstered by a blanket embargo on importing sodium nitrite, except where a special permit is granted.  In 1924, the tariffs on sodium nitrite is increased by 50% to the maximum allowed level permitted under the law.  By this time, the use of sodium nitrite in curing brines were in all likelihood the norm in Chicago and the 50% increase would have impacted on the bottom line of these companies.

Is it possible that by calling it the curing mix from Germany, Prague Salt, did Griffith sidestep the import tariff and the required permit for importing sodium nitrite completely?  My thesis is that it is entirely possible.  Even probable.  It may have misrepresented the content in Prague Powder (mislabeling) as well as misrepresenting the country of origin.

When Phil Armour passed away, his personal fortune was estimated at $50 000 000.  This is almost $1,500,000,000 in 2016.  So powerful were the packing companies that US anti-trust legislation was created to break these companies up.  The point is that big money was at stake and big influence on parts of the American government.

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The Naming of Prague Salt Copyright © 2016 by Eben van Tonder. All Rights Reserved.

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