Reformism: The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906
“Relentless, remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it — it did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life.” — Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (Chapter 3, pg. 41)
The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906
The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was the first of a series of significant consumer protection laws enacted by Congress 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.
The Federal Meat Inspection Act
The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was a key piece of Progressive Era legislation signed by President Theodore Roosevelt. Accompanying this act was the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Enforcement of these acts was assigned to the Bureau of Chemistry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture which was renamed the Food and Drug Administration 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. 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, as well as, the health of the general public.
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. 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. 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. 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. However, his opinion is not a common one, nor should it be.
So, how Does this Relate to Reformism?
The problem is the FDA. One can kind of get the sense of what is meant by this in the caffeine case mentioned in the previous section of this article, but let’s start with the Meat Inspection Act here. When the FDA’s predecessor was ordered to set regulations for the inspection of meat production in American slaughter houses, their order was to clean up the process to within reason. What this basically means, say for a beef slaughter house, is that they can have a certain percentage of non beef meat mixed in with their meat products and still pass a federal safety inspection. Here the government passes a law that is supposed to protect the health of its citizens, but because the beef industry has a hand in passing legislation regulating their industry, they are able to get away with putting the public’s health at risk. So, they can get away with having some rat meat mixed in with their beef to a certain percentage, and the FDA will be standing there right next to them to support them if any legal troubles pop up. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other. That is just an early example.
The FDA and the Pharmaceutical Industry
The real kicker is what is going on right now with the Pharmaceutical Industry, and the FDA is, of course, still right in the middle of the mess. Cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines are all secured legally by the government and illegally by people on the street. The government is supposed to tightly regulate the labeling, contents, and shipping into the country of any and all of these drugs used for medicinal purposes; and supposedly, they do. Yet, somehow, the United States has one of the worst street drug problems on the planet. Further, there are supposed to be strict limits on how medicines made from these drugs can be legally prescribed to patients by licensed physicians. However, again and again, patients around the United States are found dead in their homes from over doses, lying next to bottles illegally filled to the brim. Finally, and probably worst, the federal government has occupied the sources of the raw materials that make these drugs around the world. So, here is how it goes, the government passes laws regulating these drugs and then allows the pharmaceutical industry to get away with murder whilst, itself sends American sons and daughters off to war to secure these raw materials. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.
Now, right up until this moment, it has only been mentioned that the government has secured the regions of the world where these raw materials have been secured to feed the the Pharmaceutical Industry’s needs. Now it is time to discuss how it is has done so to meet the needs of the illicit street drug trade. Instead of Oxycontin, pharmaceutical Heroin, you get Smack or Brown on the street. Instead of Narconon, pharmaceutical Cocaine, you can get either Blow or Crack on the street. Instead of Adderall or Dyanavel, pharmaceutical Amphetamine, you get Speed, Dope, or Ice on the street. The question then begs itself, “How do these chemically processed drugs find their ways onto America’s streets so easily?” Ladies and Gentlemen, the answer to this question is not difficult, and as conspiratorial as it sounds it is still very much true. The raw materials for these street drugs make their way into this country on the very same ships, planes, and trains as the drugs going to the pharmaceutical industry. They just somehow get sidetracked along the away. The government is supposed to regulate the flow of these raw materials in and out of the country. It is supposed to see to the safety of its people. The FDA is supposed to know what is going on, and it is supposed to report everything; however, it seems to be failing miserably. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.
So, what is the solution to this problem? One might suggest that further regulations be laid down on these industries. One might suggest that the FDA be given more authority to keep track of when these materials are planted, when they are harvested, when they are transported, and when they enter the country, but it does not seem that that would do any good. Why is this? This is so, because, as always, there will always be backdoor loopholes that will allow people with money, power, or friends, or all three, to get around the rules. In this case, the people getting around the rules are institutions like the Central Intelligence Agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Pharmaceutical Industry, private unregulated security agencies, paid off foreign governments, private citizens with money and power, and many other people who are invested in the process. The solution to the problem here is not more reformist regulation. The real solution here is to end the cycle of addiction, get people into detox programs, get people working, and then to help them to learn how to live normal lives again without the drugs that destroyed their lives in the first place. The problem for the powers that be, that being the Pharmaceutical Industry and the government; however, is that this is not profitable. They do not want to see the issue resolved. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.