The History of the Food and Drug Administration

Shrink sleeve label

As you walk down the aisles at the grocery store, perusing the various products lining the shelves, you could pick up any number of them and expect to find certain nutritional information on the packaging labels. Information like ingredients, the most common allergens and nutritional facts must be included on today’s food packaging labels, but this was not always the case. Many would be shocked at the lack of information that surrounded the food and drug industry just a century ago, as the rules and regulations were much for lenient than they are today. So how did we get to the strict regulations that govern today’s commercial labels in the food and drug industry?

How Did it All Begin?

The history of the Food and Drug Administration dates back to over a century ago with the formation of the Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Chemistry in 1862. Charles M. Wetherill was designated by President Lincoln as the head of the Bureau, which would eventually become the Food and Drug Administration that we know today. The Bureau of Chemistry focused mostly on agricultural research and safety of food and drug products. Scientists in the Bureau studied the effects of preservatives in foods and drugs, and also questioned the process of adulterating food.

Dr. Harvey W. Wiley and the Wiley Act

Dr. Harvey W. Wiley was appointed as the head of the Bureau of Chemistry in 1883. There was very little control over the food and drug industry at this time. The country was in the process of going from an agricultural society to an industrial society, and the focus was more on quantity of products than quality of products. In order to draw attention to safety hazards, Dr. Wiley formed a “Poison Squad” in 1902. This squad was assembled to personally test the effects of the various preservatives and chemicals that were commonly found in food and drugs at this time. His tactics worked, and soon the public was calling on lawmakers for reforms. In 1906, the Wiley Act was signed into law with the hope of ending food adulteration and fake cures.

The Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act

After the Wiley Act was enacted, guidelines for inspecting food for sanitation and quality were created. One of the first food inspectors was a Walter G. Campbell. Campbell was responsible for many of the sweeping practices that still regulate the food and drug industry today. It was Campbell that initiated work on the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 , which required drugs to be tested for safety before hitting the market, banned poisonous substances from food and drugs (unless it was absolutely necessary, and created standards for acting in the interest of the consumer. This is also when custom product labels came under more scrutiny.

The Food Drug and Cosmetic act was continually amended, and rules and regulations grew stricter throughout the years. Today, there are not only strict guidelines for what may be added to food and drug products, but also what label manufacturers must include on packaging labels. Regulation of the food and drug industry has come a long way, and the industry will continue to be monitored to ensure the safety of consumers across the country. Get more on this here.

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