Podcast #48: Progressive Era Part 3 - The FDA

Upton Sinclair was a writer and a socialist. He spent a number of weeks undercover at a Chicago meat packing plant. His book, The Jungle was meant to shed light on the terrible working conditions. Instead, people focused on the ways in which their meat was being produced.

The Meat Inspection Act was passed in response to Upton Sinclair’s book the Jungle. prohibited the sale of adulterated or misbranded livestock and derived products as food and ensured that livestock were slaughtered and processed under sanitary conditions. The USDA was given the right to inspect all livestock before and after slaughter.

The FDA has its roots to the former Department of Chemistry within the Dept. of Agriculture. What once started out at as an army of one – one lone chemist has evolved and grown into an agency with thousands of employees and is now under the Department of Health and Human Services. As early as the 1840s, chemical analysis was used to monitor the safety of agricultural products. It took a number of attempts to get this law passed. Similar laws had been introduced years earlier but were not passed. In fact, over a span of 25 years there were 100 different bills introduced in Congress on this subject. The Pure Food and Drug Act is also known as the Wiley Act. It was named after Chemist Harvey Washington Wiley who studied the effects of adulterated foods and fertilizers. For years he advocated for the passage of such a law. Muckrakers who wrote of the horrors of the meat industry like Upton Sinclair, whose book “The Jungle '' was written to expose the horrible working conditions of the workers and not the food that was being produced. Sinclair was a socialist and considered his work to be a failure because it didn’t have the impact he hoped it would. The American public was horrified by what they learned in his book. The law finally had the support needed to get passed.

Prohibited the sale of misbranded or adulterated food and drugs in interstate commerce and laid a foundation for the nation’s first consumer protection agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Under the law, drug labels, for example, had to list any of 10 ingredients that were deemed "addictive" and/or "dangerous" on the product label if they were present, and could not list them if they were not present. Alcohol, morphine, opium, and cannabis were all included on the list of these "addictive" and/or "dangerous" drugs

The FDA is the oldest consumer protection agency within the Federal Government. Today we are joined by Vanessa Burrows who is a historian for the FDA. One of the first things I would love to discuss with you is the creation of the FDA and how this agency has changed over time.

(Vanessa Response)

Can you talk about the history of the process of approving a drug or the process of approving drugs today?

(Vanessa Response)

Misconceptions about the FDA

(Vanessa Response)

It’s true, as science changes as more information is known or as new things are uncovered it’s important for the FDA to be able to adapt.

(Vanessa Response)

WE discuss how long it took for laws to regulate products be passed. The American Chamber of Horrors.

Then maybe we have a brief discussion about what she talked about.

LD50 meaning

LD 50 is the amount of a material, given all at once, which causes the death of 50% (one half) of a group of test animals. Lowest Dose that will harm. Now within that number you will have some that are more sensitive and some that are more resistant. Companies must provide data on a whole slew of things about a product.

Constantly seeing warnings from the FDA about products when an issue arises and they will warn the public to check certain products and not to use them. Just recently in early Feb of 2022, they issued a warning about certain powdered baby formulas after an issue was traced back to one particular factory. Don’t blindly shop. Take an interest about how and where your food is made or what’s in the products you use or you use in your home every day. I have certainly tried to make a conscious effort to cut out any unnecessary chemicals. There is more that I can be doing for sure, I am taking small steps and trying to learn more and make better decisions as a consumer.

Recent Episodes