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Pure Food and Drug Act

This article is about the United States law. For the band, see Pure Food and Drug Act (band).
Not to be confused with Food and Drugs Act.
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Long title An Act for preventing the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious foods, drugs, medicines, and liquors, and for regulating traffic therein, and for other purposes.
Acronyms (colloquial) PFDA
Enacted by the 59th United States Congress
Effective June 30, 1906
Public Law 59-384
Statutes at Large 34 Stat. 768, Chapter 3915
Acts repealed
  • Pure Food and Drug Act (1906)
  • 37 U.S. Stat. 416 (1912) (Sherley Amendment)
  • 37 U.S. Stat. 732 (1913) (Gould Amendment)
  • 41 U.S. Stat. 271 (1919) (Kenyon Amendment)
  • 42 U.S. Stat. 1500 (1923)
  • 44 U.S. Stat. 976-1003 (1927)
  • 46 U.S. Stat. 1019 (1930) (McNary-Mapes Amendment)
  • 48 U.S. Stat. 1204 (1934) (21 U.S.C. §§ 1-15)
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 88 by Weldon Heyburn (RID) on December 14, 1905
  • Passed the Senate on February 21, 1906 (63-4)
  • Passed the House on June 20, 1906 (143-72)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on June 23, 1906; agreed to by the Senate on June 23, 1906 (agreed) and by the House on June 23, 1906 (241-17)
  • Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 30, 1906
Major amendments
Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (1938)
United States Supreme Court cases
United States v. Johnson (1911)

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was the first of a series of significant consumer protection laws enacted by the Federal Government in the 20th century and led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. Its main purpose was to ban foreign and interstate traffic in adulterated or mislabeled food and drug products, and it directed the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry to inspect products and refer offenders to prosecutors. It required that active ingredients be placed on the label of a drug’s packaging and that drugs could not fall below purity levels established by the United States Pharmacopeia or the National Formulary. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was an inspirational piece that kept the public's attention on the important issue of unsanitary meat processing plants that later led to food inspection legislation.

Historical significance

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was a key piece of Progressive Era legislation, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt on the same day as the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Enforcement of the Pure Food and Drug Act was assigned to the Bureau of Chemistry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture which was renamed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1930. The Meat Inspection Act was assigned to what is now known as the Food Safety and Inspection Service that remains in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The first federal law regulating foods and drugs, the 1906 Act's reach was limited to foods and drugs moving in interstate commerce. Although the law drew upon many precedents, provisions, and legal experiments pioneered in individual states, the federal law defined "misbranding" and "adulteration" for the first time and prescribed penalties for each. The law recognized the U.S. Pharmacopeia and the National Formulary as standards authorities for drugs, but made no similar provision for federal food standards.[1] The law was principally a "truth in labeling" law designed to raise standards in the food and drug industries and protect the reputations and pocketbooks of honest businessmen.

Particular drugs deemed dangerous

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 and opium, and cannabis were all included on the list of these "addictive" and/or "dangerous" drugs. The law also established a federal cadre of food and drug inspectors that one Southern opponent of the legislation criticized as "a Trojan horse with a bellyful of inspectors." Penalties under the law were modest, but an underappreciated provision of the Act proved more powerful than monetary penalties. Goods found in violation of the law were subject to seizure and destruction at the expense of the manufacturer. That, combined with a legal requirement that all convictions be published (Notices of Judgment), proved to be important tools in the enforcement of the statute and had a deterrent effect upon would-be violators. Deficiencies in this original statute, which had become noticeable by the 1920s, led to the replacement of the 1906 statute with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which, was enacted in 1938 and signed by President Franklin Roosevelt. The 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, along with its numerous amendments, remains the statutory basis for federal regulation of all foods, drugs, biological products, cosmetics, medical devices, tobacco, and radiation-emitting devices by the U.S. FDA.

History of passage

It took 27 years to pass the 1906 statute, during which time the public was made aware of many problems with foods and drugs in the U.S. Muckraking journalists, such as Samuel Hopkins Adams, targeted the patent medicine industry with its high-alcoholic content patent medicines, soothing syrups for infants with opium derivatives, and "red clauses" in newspaper contracts providing that patent medicine ads (upon which most newspapers of the time were dependent) would be withdrawn if the paper expressed support for food and drug regulatory legislation. The Chief Chemist of the Bureau of Chemistry, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, captured the country's attention with his hygienic table studies, which began with a modest Congressional appropriation in 1902. The goal of the table trial was to study the human effects of common preservatives used in foods during a period of rapid changes in the food supply brought about by the need to feed cities and support an industrializing nation increasingly dependent on immigrant labor. Wiley recruited young men to eat all their meals at a common table as he added increased "doses" of preservatives including borax, benzoate, formaldehyde, sulfites, and salicylates. The table trials captured the nation's fancy and were soon dubbed "The Poison Squad" by newspapers covering the story. The men soon adopted the motto "Only the Brave dare eat the fare" and at times the publicity given to the trials became a burden. Though many results of the trial came to be in dispute, there was no doubt that formaldehyde was dangerous and it disappeared quickly as a preservative. Wiley himself felt that he had found adverse effects from large doses of each of the preservatives and the public seemed to agree with Wiley. In many cases, most particularly with ketchup and other condiments, the use of preservatives was often used to disguise insanitary production practices. Although the law itself did not proscribe the use of some of these preservatives, consumers increasingly turned away from many products with known preservatives.

The 1906 statute regulated food and drugs moving in interstate commerce and forbade the manufacture, sale, or transportation of poisonous patent medicines.[2] The Act arose due to public education and exposés from public interest guardians such as Upton Sinclair and Samuel Hopkins Adams, social activist Florence Kelley, researcher Harvey W. Wiley, and President Theodore Roosevelt.

Beginnings of the Food and Drug Administration

The 1906 Act paved the way for the eventual creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is generally considered to be that agency's founding date, though the agency existed before the law was passed and was not named FDA until later. "While the Food and Drug act remains a foundational law of the FDA mission, it's not the law that created the FDA. [Initially,] the Bureau of Chemistry (the precursor to the FDA) regulated food safety. In 1927, the Bureau was reorganized into the Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration and the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils. The FDIA was renamed the FDA in 1930."[3]

The law itself was largely replaced by the much more comprehensive Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938.

Enforcement of labeling and future ramifications

The Pure Food and Drug Act was initially concerned with ensuring products were labeled correctly. Later efforts were made to outlaw certain products that were not safe, followed by efforts to outlaw products which were safe but not effective. For example, there was an attempt to outlaw Coca-Cola in 1909 because of its excessive caffeine content; caffeine had replaced cocaine as the active ingredient in Coca-Cola in 1903.[4] In the case United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, the judge found that Coca-Cola had a right to use caffeine as it saw fit, although Coca-Cola eventually lost when the government appealed to the Supreme Court.[5] It reached a settlement with the United States government to reduce the caffeine amount.

In addition to caffeine, the Pure Food and Drug Act required that drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, morphine, and cannabis, be accurately labeled with contents and dosage. Previously many drugs had been sold as patent medicines with secret ingredients or misleading labels. Cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and other such drugs continued to be legally available without prescription as long as they were labeled. It is estimated that sale of patent medicines containing opiates decreased by 33% after labeling was mandated.[6] The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 is cited by drug policy reform advocates such as James P. Gray as a successful model for re-legalization of currently prohibited drugs by requiring accurate labels, monitoring of purity and dose, and consumer education.[7]



  1. ^ Swann, Ph.D., John P. "The 1906 Food and Drugs Act and Its Enforcement". FDA History - Part I. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 10 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Ayers, Edward A. (August 1907). "What The Food Law Saves Us From: Adulterations, Substitutions, Chemical Dyes, and Other Evils". The World's Work: A History of Our Time XIV: 9316–9322. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  3. ^ Sharrock, Justine (2011-01-11) Explained: Jared Loughner's Grammar Obsession, Mother Jones
  4. ^ Hamblin M.D., James (January 31, 2013). "Why We Took Cocaine Out of Soda". The Atlantic's Health Editorial. The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved April 10, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Pop psychology: The man who saved Coca-Cola", by Ludy T. Benjamin, Monitor on Psychology, February 2009, Vol 40, No. 2, p. 18
  6. ^ Musto, David F. (1999). The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512509-6. 
  7. ^ Gray, James P. (May 2, 2001). "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs". Temple University Press. p. 288. ISBN 978-1566398602. 

Works cited

External links

  • 59th U.S. Congress (December 14, 1905). "S. 88, Draft bill of the Pure Food and Drug Act". Chapter 3915, cited 34 U.S. Stats. 768. U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  • 59th U.S. Congress (1906). "THE WILEY ACT". Public Law Number 59-384, 34 Stat. 768. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved April 8, 2013.