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On 24 April 1856, the Brussels mayor proposed the creation of a chemical laboratory for analyzing food. His proposal was accepted, and a laboratory with one full-time chemist was installed. With those of Turin and London, this was one of the first municipal, i.e. official, laboratories in the world. The laboratory would permit the impartial control of food that, so it was believed, had been increasingly adulterated in the previous decades. (1) The laboratory's launch was accompanied by a discourse in which the Brussels inhabitants had a central position. References to the people were not new with regard to food issues. In Paris, for example, the so-called bread police regulated the trade in the 18th century, which aimed at providing sufficient bread of good quality at a fair price; now and again, shoppers were called upon to denounce bakers who sold bread under suspicion of adulteration or at prices that were above the norm. (2) The background to this was the age-old fear of the common people's insurrection against traders and authorities. In 1856, the concern of the Brussels government went beyond this fear of rebellion when referring to the people. The mayor declared that the Brussels inhabitants not only needed to be protected against fraudulent merchants, but that they also had the right to have safe food and the certainty that the food was constantly controlled. Moreover, in the second part of the century the Bruxellois were frequently and directly invited to be part of the control system. The local government wished to give an active role to the inhabitants, not as informants as had been the case in eighteenth-century Paris, but as proactive and responsible citizens. We wish to investigate this alleged move towards the more active role of shoppers: may this be seen as a step toward a modern, post-1920 consumer society in Europe? Direct inspiration for this investigation came from three angles. Lucie Paquy studied the municipal laboratory of Grenoble (established 1887). She stressed the fact that le public was allowed to bring in food samples, found that the number of samples submitted by private persons decreased slowly but surely, and asked who these people were. Due to lack of source material, she could not answer this question, although she suggested that merchants in particular made use of the laboratory. (3) Alessandro Stanziani addressed a similar problem in his study of the Parisian municipal laboratory (established 1876). Producers, traders, and, primarily, lobby groups used the laboratory's service, for which they had to pay high prices. The general public called upon the laboratory especially for control of wine that was analyzed without payment or at a low price. (4) Vera Hierholzer looked directly at the consumers' role in the battle against food adulteration in Germany. The Verein gegen die Verfalschung der Lebensmittel ("Association against the falsification of food", established in Leipzig, 1877) believed that safe food was not just a concern of producers, traders and state monitoring, but especially of responsible citizens. The Verein organized meetings, published brochures, and invited its members to bring in suspect foodstuffs for chemical analysis (the association possessed its own laboratories). However, after only a couple of years, this association was facing huge difficulties, including consumers' lack of interest, and it disappeared in the early 1880s. (5)

June 22
Journal of Social History
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