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In a Strange Garden: The Life and Times of Truby King

Appendix Four: Karitane products

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Appendix Four: Karitane products

Truby King's contribution to the decline in infant mortality relates to the reduction in deaths due to diarrhoea, attributable mainly to correcting the constituents of artificial feeding. Mothers who followed fashion and chose not to breast-feed were giving their babies a variety of foods, none of which came close to approximating human breast milk. Truby King's genius was in the simple adjustment of cow's milk to mimic the composition of human milk.

His justification was eloquent. He quoted the protein make-up of human, calf and rabbit milk noting that a human takes 26 weeks to double its body weight, while a calf takes 6-8 weeks, and a rabbit a week. The protein proportions for human milk are 1.5 per cent, for calf 3.5 per cent, and for rabbit 15 per cent. King was quick to realise that the growth rates balanced exactly the available protein. Similarly with fat. A baby whale living in water needs more than 12 times the page 228 fat of a calf or human baby, because of its heat requirements. The fat ratios are: human 3.5 per cent, calf 3.5 per cent, whale 45 per cent. King concluded that the milk of one mammal is suited to its needs alone, and that cow's milk would need modification, or 'humanising', before it would suit the needs of a baby. Other researchers had found different techniques for humanising cow's milk. In France, Budin made it palatable by super-heating, but did not address the problems of protein or fat imbalance. Budin reduced infant mortality due to diarrhoea, but did not address weight gain from fat and protein imbalance. King's ideas were technically sound, but had the added advantage of being easily implemented in the home, by adding Karitane products to cow's milk to produce a breast-milk equivalent, with correct sugar, fat and protein balances. He proved this while living at Seacliff and getting Plunket started in Dunedin, and demonstrated its utility by being able to impart the techniques to Plunket nurses who were then able to teach it successfully to mothers. While King's contribution could be seen simply as a reduction in the infant mortality rate, a more significant, if subtle contribution was doubtless in the improvement in the overall health of infants due to better nutrition. He was achieving his goal of prevention of disease.

On moving to Wellington, Truby King was removed from the focus of Plunket affairs and needed another project to occupy his mind. He decided on a factory to produce the necessary humanising additives for the nation's baby foods. The Karitane Products Society was established in 1927 as an adjunct to the Plunket Society. King was 69 years old, had just lost Bella and was in the twilight of his life. It was said that advancing years made him more irascible, dogmatic and difficult. However, he still had a lot to achieve.

The original (unpaid) Directors of the Karitane Products Society (KPS) were Sir Truby King, Mr Justice Blair, Sir William Hunt (Managing Director, Wright Stephenson), Mrs Henry Hall (President, Wellington Plunket Society), Dr T. Derrick (Medical Director, Plunket Society), Mrs Derrick, Dr T. Gray (Director General, Mental Hospitals), Mrs Gray, Miss A. Pattrick (Director, page 229 Plunket Nursing), Mr P. Pattrick (Public Accountant), Dr M. Tweed (Medical Practitioner, later to succeed Derrick), Miss Mary King (Truby and Bella's adopted daughter, aged 22).

The Society's mission was 'the manufacture, at the lowest practical rates, of the best and highest grades of pure food materials for use in the ideal rearing of infants'. The motto 'Delays are soon forgotten -bad work, never' was the stern admonition on the factory wall.

The foundation deed required that all profits be spent in the advancement of the Mothercraft movement in New Zealand or elsewhere.

The factory, in the four-hectare grounds at Melrose, was within walking distance of Truby King's house and the Karitane Hospital. Emphasis was placed on sterility, cleanliness and order (three cornerstones of Plunket). King, with his hands-on supervision, ensured that his high standards were maintained. Most of the original equipment came from his cowbyre at Seacliff, where he first concocted his emulsion and 'humanised' milk.

Three 'K' products were made at the Karitane Products factory: Karilac, Kariol and Karil.

Karilac met the 'humanising' requirements — a question of adjusting cow's milk to have the same proportions of protein, fat and sugar as breast milk. King had correctly determined that lactose or 'sugar of milk' was preferable to cane sugar and had gone to some lengths to ensure its availability, and to convince the medical profession and public of its benefits. Interestingly, his work was eventually responsible for New Zealand's lactose industry, which is now an important export earner. Initially he decided to import lactose himself, to teach the local high-priced producers a lesson. They responded by securing a tariff on his imported product. King responded by adding small amounts of dextrin and maltose to avoid the duty. A bitter commercial battle ensued, but as usual King was right, even if he made enemies along the way.

He had called on pioneering work in the United States and France for the humanising of milk, but was himself responsible for the practical development work to formulate a range of appropriate page 230
The Karitane Products factory.

The Karitane Products factory.

supplements to cow's milk that were easily used by mothers. Karilac was sold in powdered form, in three different strengths, a set of graduated sugar mixtures to suit a baby's age and development. Each Karilac formulation contained 5 per cent gelatin, and varied only in the proportions of lactose to dextrose. A packet would last a fortnight. Kariol was the answer King conceived to the need for supplementing cream with vegetable oils, butterfat and fish oils, to increase the fat content of cow's milk. It was mixed to form an emulsion and sold in tins. The original homogenising plant at Seacliff was an page 231 adapted stonecrusher. Kariol, sometimes known as New Zealand Emulsion, originally comprised peanut oil, but later King recognised the superior qualities of fish oil. Before the war, Karitane Products consumed 45,000 litres of cod liver oil annually.

Karil was an emulsion comprising cod liver oil and malt extract, and was designed for children over one year as a general-purpose dietary supplement, and sold in tins. Gordon Parry, in his history of Plunket, tells the story of King and Karil:

When King was about to sail for England in 1928 he had worked out the ingredients for this preparation but had not overcome the problem of the oil content rising and floating on the surface. So he had a case of jars of Karil put in his cabin to determine whether the technique he had been trying was going to work. After 10 days at sea he opened the jars — calling in some independent witnesses — and found that each contained a perfect white emulsion with no signs of oil on the surface.

King initially restricted sales of Karilac and Kariol to be available only through Plunket nurses. This allowed him control of the mothers via the nurse, but got him offside with the chemists and just about brought the enterprise to its knees. Mothers who lived distant from Plunket Rooms and presented a note signed by a Plunket nurse were then allowed to purchase K products from selected chemists. This arrangement caused some practical difficulties, almost resulted in financial ruin, and was eventually resolved by setting up a more practical marketing approach, administered by a more pragmatic board of directors. By the early 1930s chemists were stocking Karitane products and nurses were released from marketing.

Products from the Melrose factory were shipped all over the world. The pre-war brochure of the Karitane Products Society noted: 'Regular shipments of our preparations are dispatched to different parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, East Africa and Canada. In addition to the above regular exports, the Society sends from time to time supplies for individual babies to parents or nurses living in many different parts of the world.

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For example supplies are forwarded to China, India, Ceylon, Straits Settlements, etc.' With the exception of China, it is noteworthy that these were all countries that would have been coloured red on the school map of the world, members of Truby's British Empire.

With the affairs of Karitane Products being profitably managed, King was seized with the idea of 'doing it all over again'. Australia had observed Plunket's successes but had been slow to take up King's ideas. He made numerous visits across the Tasman, aware of the uneasy jealousy that he engendered with some people. Doubtless he made more enemies in Australia than elsewhere, but this did not deter him, especially as advancing age had strengthened his resolve against non-believers.

Riled by a 40 per cent import duty on Karitane products and the authorities' refusal of relief, King determined he should build an Australian factory to manufacture his Karitane products. This was not to be one of his more astute decisions.

In 1928 he leased a building in Surry Street, Sydney, in a slum area close to the central railway station. In a speech to Sydney businessmen he hoped to recruit as directors for the project he launched into a stirring address: 'You shall listen to me. I am an old man, and only have a little longer to live in this world. You shall hear my message.' The factory was equipped and began production of Karilac, Kariol and Karil. From the outset it was not a success. King, in his seventies, without the support of Bella, had lost his incisive focus and was rapidly losing the plot.

The directors of KPS in Wellington were not of a mind to indulge his profligacy, and when in 1930 he proposed to go to London to investigate the building of an English factory, they tried to dissuade him, eventually only agreeing to his trip if he took Mary with him. To his request from London for money to build a factory, their response was resoundingly negative, calling him home to account for the continued losses incurred by the Sydney factory.

Truby dispatched Mary to Sydney to furnish the house he had acquired next to the factory. Mary's disgust at the tiny unsuitable cottage was plain. She capitulated, however, realising sadly that the page 233 father she idolised was showing signs of being human, frail and very old. They took up residence in Surry Street at Christmas. It didn't last long, for the heat, the slum location and Truby's poor health compelled his return to Wellington.

The directors of KPS shut down the Sydney factory shortly thereafter. Bill Scott was dispatched to close the operation and bring the equipment back to Melrose. Truby was not amused.

The Karitane Products Society continued to prosper with more practical, but still voluntary directors. Their baby products and fish-oil production ensured substantial profits that provided much-needed cashflow to an always needy and poverty-stricken Plunket Society. In 1948 the successful fish-oil factory in Timaru, which was producing over 60, 000 litres of high-quality fish oil annually, was sold to Glaxo.

Kariol ceased being produced in 1970, a victim perhaps of its own success. Breast-feeding was back in vogue and infant nutrition was no longer concerned with the feeding of fats.

In 1986 the Karitane Products factory closed its doors. Bill Scott, son of Bill Scott, the original Scottish manager, retired. The ghost of Truby King shuddered. Kariol and Karil were no longer in demand. Plunket sold the Karilac brand to Douglas Pharmaceuticals in Auckland, continuing to derive royalty income. The art deco factory building lives on cheerfully as apartments. The factory machinery is dispersed, the author being the proud owner of a set of its huge industrial scales.

Truby King was indirectly responsible for New Zealand's fish oil industry, which arose to meet wartime shortages of imported fish oil. Analysis of the domestically produced oil showed it to be markedly superior to its imported equivalent.

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