"Unfit for human consumption": tuberculosis and the problem of infected meat in late Victorian Britain

Bull Hist Med. 2003 Fall;77(3):636-61. doi: 10.1353/bhm.2003.0147.


By the 1890s, questions about tuberculous meat in Britain served to transform the issue of infected meat from an ill-defined to a concrete threat. Veterinarians, building on European inoculation (or transmission) experiments, played a prominent part in constructing the debate, with medical officers of health following. With the emergence of bacteriology in the 1880s, a consensus emerged about the dangers of tuberculous meat: Robert Koch's identification of the tubercle bacillus in 1882, and the connection he saw between bovine tuberculosis and the disease in man, provided confirmation of the disease's danger to man. It was from this point that veterinary and public health interests diverged. Whereas a general agreement had been reached, the extent of the problem remained open to doubt. Confusion revolved around two issues: the localization of infection, and the question of cooking. The latter was thought to make tuberculous meat "safe," as attention shifted to the problem of milk; whereas the former frustrated efforts to combat the sale of meat showing signs of infection.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cooking / history
  • England
  • Food Microbiology*
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Meat / history*
  • Meat / microbiology
  • Public Health / history*
  • Tuberculosis, Bovine / history*
  • Veterinary Medicine / history
  • Zoonoses / history