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Pure Food and Drug Act: A Muckraking Triumph

The first Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906. The purpose was to protect the public against adulteration of food and from products identified as healthful without scientific support. The original Pure Food and Drug Act was amended in 1912, 1913, and 1923. A greater extension of its scope took place in 1933. The muckrakers had successfully heightened public awareness of safety issues stemming from careless food preparation procedures and the increasing incidence of drug addiction from patent medicines, both accidental and conscious. Scientific support came from Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, the Department of Agriculture`s chief chemist, who published his findings on the widespread use of harmful preservatives in the meat-packing industry. The experience of American soldiers with so-called “embalmed beef” during the Spanish-American War added impetus to the movement. President Theodore Roosevelt began the process by ensuring the passage of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, which was followed by the Pure Food and Drug Act, passed in 1906 to become effective at the start of 1907. It was to be applied to goods shipped in foreign or interstate commerce. The purpose was to prevent adulteration or misbranding. Adulteration was defined in various ways. For confectionary, adulteration would be the result of any poisonous color or flavor, or of any other ingredients harmful to human health. Food was adulterated if it contained filthy or decomposed animal matter, poisonous or deleterious ingreidents, or anything that attempted to conceal inferior components. Provisions included

  • Creation of the Food and Drug Administration, which was entrusted with the responsibility of testing all foods and drugs destined for human consumption
  • The requirement for prescriptions from licensed physicians before a patient could purchase certain drugs
  • The requirement of label warnings on habit-forming drugs.
An offending manufacturer or distributor could be prosecuted by the Federal government, except that a distributor was not liable to such action if he could show an adequate guarantee from the vendor. Passage of the measure in Congress was not assured. The lobbying association representing the medicine makers was vocal and well-funded, as were representatives of the “beef trust” and other food producers. Some members of Congress, especially a number of Southern senators, opposed the bill as constitutionally unsound. The active involvement of Theodore Roosevelt, who was repulsed by slaughterhouse practices described in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, successfully overcame the lawmakers’ reluctance. The first casualty of this legislation was the patent medicine industry; few of the nostrums gained certification from the FDA. The law was strengthened in 1912 when additional provisions were added to combat fraudulent labeling. In 1913, the law was supplemented with a provision requiring packaged goods to show their weight. In 1923, "filled" milk was defined and its interstate shipment made illegal. During The Great Depression, the Wheeler-Lea Act was passed to make false or misleading statements about "foods, drugs, diagnostic and therapeutics devices, and cosmetics" illegal through product markings or advertising when such advertising was spread beyond the boundaries of a single state. The Federal Trade Commission was given responsibility for the advertising portion and the Food and Drug Administration took charge of the misbranding issues.
See other Theodore Roosevelt domestic legislation.