The Food and Drug Act


The 1906 Food and Drugs Act and creation of the FDA

In June 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Food and Drugs Act, also known as the “Wiley Act” after its chief advocate. The Act prohibited, under penalty of seizure of goods, the interstate transport of food which had been “adulterated”, with that term referring to the addition of fillers of reduced “quality or strength”, coloring to conceal “damage or inferiority,” formulation with additives “injurious to health,” or the use of “filthy, decomposed, or putrid” substances. The act applied similar penalties to the interstate marketing of “adulterated” drugs, in which the “standard of strength, quality, or purity” of the active ingredient was not either stated clearly on the label or listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia or the National Formulary. The act also banned “misbranding” of food and drugs. The responsibility for examining food and drugs for such “adulteration” or “misbranding” was given to Wiley’s USDA Bureau of Chemistry.

Wiley used these new regulatory powers to pursue an aggressive campaign against the manufacturers of foods with chemical additives, but the Chemistry Bureau’s authority was soon checked by judicial decisions, as well as by the creation of the Board of Food and Drug Inspection and the Referee Board of Consulting Scientific Experts as separate organizations within the USDA in 1907 and 1908 respectively. A 1911 Supreme Court decision ruled that the 1906 act did not apply to false claims of therapeutic efficacy, in response to which a 1912 amendment added “false and fraudulent” claims of “curative or therapeutic effect” to the Act’s definition of “misbranded.” However, these powers continued to be narrowly defined by the courts, which set high standards for proof of fraudulent intent. In 1927, the Bureau of Chemistry’s regulatory powers were reorganized under a new USDA body, the Food, Drug, and Insecticide organization. This name was shortened to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) three years later.
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