May 13, 2020


Deborah Blum, Director, Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and Publisher, Undark Magazine


In the early 20th century, USDA food chemist Harvey Washington Wiley helped lead a crusade to establish federal safety standards for food, drink, and drugs in the United States. (He received major support from the forerunner of AFDO, then known as the Association of State Food and Dairy Departments.) Both Wiley and state food chemists had for years been dedicated to exposing the fraud and the often toxic nature of the unregulated food supply. Their work led to the passage of the 1906 Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. But the back story of that fight - including some truly crazy food products and additives, a cast of dramatic and combative characters, and the first, precedent setting decisions on the government's role in consumer protection, remains surprisingly influential. Indeed, the decisions we make even today about American food safety, can be traced directly to the actions and battles of Wiley and his peers. The story is in many ways for anyone trying to decipher food policy then and now.