TODAY, WE KNOW WHAT’S IN THE FOOD WE EAT. BUT THAT HASN’T ALWAYS BEEN THE CASE.
With its white tablecloths and bright white walls, the dining room looked like a fancy restaurant. Twelve healthy young men sat at two of the dining room tables, ready to tuck into a hearty meal. But visitors would be shocked by one of the meal’s main ingredients: poison.
It’s 1902, and government chemist Dr. Harvey Wiley had been keeping a close eye on the growing food manufacturing industry. More and more companies were creating food and drink products, and adding preservatives to keep their products fresh. Dr. Wiley was worried about what was actually being sold to consumers. What were people really eating? Did they even know what was in their food? Dr. Wiley knew that many big companies would cut corners to make more money. He wanted to make sure the food was safe.
Dr. Wiley had spoken with people in the federal government about the importance of food safety, but the food industry had a lot of money and support. The industry was able to hold off any and regulation. That is, until Dr. Wiley started his Poison Squad.
Dr. Wiley worked with a group of young men, serving them three meals a day, each of which contained increasing portions of common preservatives and additives. He observed the men and tracked their health, trying to identify how much of any particular additive could make people sick. The media shared stories from Dr. Wiley’s research, and other people began to push back against the food companies, too. In 1906, after five years of research, Dr. Wiley’s work and pressure from the public led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. These Acts, along with Dr. Wiley’s research, helped pave the way for the creation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1930.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is just one of the ways the government protects consumers. Check out the primary sources. How do these sources demonstrate the importance of government protection for consumers? Make your case.
Have your students take this challenge and make their case! To begin, send your students to this website with this challenge’s code.
Federal oversight is the responsibility of the federal government to keep a close watch on organizations and make sure they are following specific rules.