History of AFDO

From early colonial times, most of the food and drug regulations in this country were enacted at the state and local level. These regulations were generally targeted toward specific food products and generally for quality concerns. In 1641 Massachusetts introduced its first food adulteration law, which required the official inspection of beef, pork and fish. This was followed in the 1650’s with a regulation for the quality of bread. Virginia also enacted laws to regulate weights and measures for corn and to outlaw the sale of adulterated wines.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the scale and scope of state level food regulation expanded considerably.

In 1896, in Toledo, Ohio, Joseph Blackburn, the Food and Dairy Commissioner for Ohio, met with his counterpart from Michigan, Elliot Grosvenor, to develop the foundation for an organization whose mission would be defined by the
 promotion of regulatory uniformity. The initial meeting of the National Association of State Dairy and Food Departments, which later became the Association of Food and Drug Officials, occurred the following year on August 25, 1897, in the Turkish Room of the Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, MI. Representatives attended this meeting from the following ten States: Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Cadillac Hotel(Above: Cadillac Hotel, Detroit, Michigan)

Uniformity in legislation and rulings relative to dairy and food products was a major objective of the association from the very beginning. Two other well recognized objectives were the promotion of legislation that would protect public health and the harmonization of interests represented by those charges with the enforcement of state laws.

Thus began a nationwide professional association combining the best talents of government officials at all levels, industry, academia, and consumers.

The first few years of the Association would focus on developing a constitution and by-laws, which were finally completed and approved at the 1902 convention in Portland, Oregon. This convention also marked the beginning of the associations discussions relative to a proposed Pure Food & Drug Act being promoted by Dr. Harvey Wiley, Chief Chemist with the Bureau of Chemistry of the United States Department of Agriculture. The association strongly supported national legislation and approved a motion to send their entire Legislative Committee to Washington, D.C. to appear before the Senate Committee debating the proposed legislation. The Association would, also, pass Resolutions in 1904 and 1905 supporting the national bill and sent an extensive telegram to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 indicating its full support as well. In 1906 the bill passed and the country had its first comprehensive Pure Food and Drug Act. Dr. Wiley spoke at the association’s meeting that same year just 2 ½ weeks after the law was enacted and thanked those who worked to accomplish the national rule.

“The people of this country, it seems to me, are to be congratulated upon the splendid work which has been accomplished by the national legislature. While no one claims that the law which has been enacted is a perfect one, yet everyone will admit that it is based on sound principles of ethics and justice. If experience shall show that it is weak in any of its provisions, the attitude of the national Congress is such to this great question that any needed amendments can be easily secured. This meeting, therefore, takes place under what may be considered most favorable auspices respecting the legislative aspects of the pure food question."

Dr Harvey Wiley(Above: Dr. Harvey Wiley)

The impact of the association on improving the relationship between federal government officials and state and local officials is well documented.

In 1913 the association passed a motion recommending the formation of an Office of State Cooperation. This was the beginning of what would become FDA’s Division of Federal State Relations and today the FDA Office of Partnerships. These offices have solidified relationships between FDA and the states for many years.

In 1927 the Association produced the ‘Model Uniform Food Law which many states would go on to adopt. This model act was designed to prevent the manufacture, possession, sale or delivery of adulterated or misbranded food and drugs. It set specific standards for determining when food and drugs are considered adulterated or misbranded.

In 1937, a Tennessee drug manufacturer began to market a liquid sulfa drug called Elixir Sulfanilamide. Unfortunately, the solvent used in producing this drug was a highly toxic variant of antifreeze and over 100 people died from taking this drug. Many of these deaths were children and a public outcry occurred in this country. The Association passed a Resolution reaffirming its position in support of passage of a stronger Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and in 1938 President Franklin Roosevelt would sign into law a new and stronger Food Drug & Cosmetic Act. Under the 1938 law, the FDA was given considerably greater authority over the food and drug industry. Here is what the Resolution said:

“WEHEREAS, the recent much publicized disaster in the poisoning and death of over 100 persons from the unsupervised distribution of an unknown and untested proprietary remedy might have been prevented had there been enacted in the past an adequate and strong federal food and drugs act, providing for licensing, and control of dangerous drugs, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the association reaffirm its position taken at previous meetings in the support of the passage by Congress of a strong and adequate food, drug, and cosmetic law”

In 1939 the Association passed a Resolution to reaffirm its strong support of uniformity and support for state adoption of uniform food, drug, and cosmetic legislation. While the Association would continue to support uniformity, it always believed that states should have the authority to act in the absence of federal action. It further acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of food safety work performed in this country has been and will always be performed at the state and local government level. AFDO would later conduct Resource Surveys of state and local food safety programs to quantify this work. These surveys are posted on AFDO’s website.

While there are many milestones in the history of the Association, one of the more recent ones occurred in 1997 in Sacramento, CA when USDA/FSIS hosted the 3rd Annual Federal/State Conference on Food Safety. It was here where AFDO President Dan Smyly from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services recommended that the country consider developing a fully integrated national food safety system. AFDO has worked tirelessly since that time to promote the concept. In 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that supports an integrated food safety system. AFDO continues to work with all stakeholders to advance what was its original vision for a fully national integrated food safety system.

Dr Dan Smyly

(Above: Dr. Dan Smyly)

In 1996, well known food law attorney and avid AFDO member George M. Burditt compiled a commemorative history of AFDO in his book entitled “AFDO The First Hundred Years.” It chronicles most all of what is written here up to 1996. In the conclusion of this book, Mr. Burditt states the following:

“The benefits of the Association to society are incalculable. Uniformity – a key word from the very beginning in 1897, and now the first word in AFDO’s slogan – is the crowning achievement. Exchange of scientific information, sharing of compliance policies, procedures and problems, and helping one another to keep current in a constantly advancing field of knowledge are among the themes so apparent to a student of the history of the Association.

The second operative word in the Association’s slogan is Cooperation. For the first few years of the Association’s history, it was cooperation among state officials only. Then cooperation with the federal government was added. And finally, cooperation with industry became an integral part of the Association’s program. Cooperation is not only in the Association’s slogan but is at the very heart of the organization."


(Above: George M. Burditt)


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