Pure Food and Drug Act (1906)
Signed by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 30, 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of any adulterated, misbranded, poisonous, or deleterious food, drug, medicine, or liquor. Violations of the act were misdemeanor offenses resulting in fines not to exceed $500, or one year's imprisonment, at the discretion of the court. Along with its companion Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act was the genesis of the complex regulatory system now administered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
As the United States moved from an agricultural to an industrial economy, its burgeoning urban workforce became increasingly dependent upon manufactured food, vast amounts of which were adulterated by preservatives and cosmetics. Beef, for example, contained boric acid, while pork and beans contained formaldehyde. Although numerous measures to protect consumers had been introduced in Congress beginning in 1879, opposition by the powerful food-manufacturing lobby had barred their enactment. Public opinion was mobilized primarily through the revelations of Harvey W. Wiley, chief chemist for the Department of Agriculture, and his “Poison Squad” of researchers, who fed dubious preservatives to volunteers and publicized the results. The measure allegedly also benefited from the atmosphere created by muckraker Upton Sinclair's graphic novel, The Jungle (1906), which detailed myriad offenses committed in the meatpacking industry.
While the federal law set standards, it was up to the states to enforce its provisions. The 1906 law was strengthened by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which dictated that manufacturers must prove the safety of any drug before it is released for sale.
Brigitte M. Charaus
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