Evolution of Food Regulation Throughout the United States

     Food regulation is something that has been looked after since small farmers began producing goods in Colonial America. Vast expansion of the population, however, created a demand for consumers’ products to be properly labeled for health and nutritional education, as well. This demand from American consumers created an issue for the government when it came to addressing the demands, and figuring out how to have a uniform system nationwide. Because of the growth of our country, Congress took away the power of regulations from individual states and created the Department of Agriculture (as well as the Food and Drug Association) to see that there are uniform regulations and standards, and that they are being met throughout the United States.

     Even in Colonial America, there were early state laws modeled after English laws that looked after certain foods and how they were handled; these laws aimed at protecting against food adulteration. The earliest state law passed on food regulation was in Massachusetts in 1785. Signed by Samuel Adams, this law would fine or imprison persons who were found selling diseased, corrupted, or unwholesome products. After the states began implementing their own laws on food regulation, Congress decided they wanted a more uniform, universal way to distinguish quality items, and thus they formed the Department of Agriculture in 1862 (Ernst, Nancy Dillingham, et. Al). Shortly thereafter, the Department of Agriculture created a specific branch within itself, the Food and Drug Association, which is responsible for regulating food, drugs, medial devices, and cosmetics (Hickmann, Meredith A.). What began as individual state mandates sparked an entirely new department within the government, where many important laws and provisions came into action.

     The first federal law the Department of Agriculture produced was the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. This act was the first federal law against and prohibiting adulteration or misbranded food (Ernst, Nancy Dillingham, et. Al). While this law was implemented on packaged and processed foods, it didn’t cover any meat products. In order to cover this loophole, the Department of Agriculture accepted the Federal Meat Inspection Act as an amendment in 1906 and enacted it as a permanent law the following year. This follow-up law ensured that meat products were wholesome, not adulterated, and labeled properly (Hubbert, WIlliam T.) In order for this law to be saw through, the inspectors are made to examine and inspect all animals before they’ve headed to slaughter. Preventing infected livestock from going to slaughter diminished the chances of infecting the slaughterhouse, and all meat sources. Then the inspectors must ensure humane methods of slaughter are used, and lastly, they must perform a post-mortem exam and deem the product “inspected and passed.” (Toldra, Fidel). It wasn’t until 1957 that the Poultry Products Inspection Act was passed, which essentially covered all poultry items to go through the same regulation, inspections, and labeling processes as meat and raw produced items  (Ernst, Nancy Dillingham, et. Al). 

     The year 1938 proved to be a crucial year for the Department of Agriculture and for progress on laws on food regulations. In this year the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was made law. This act was made to update previous laws due to its imperfections as well as to respond to recent technological advances (Fortin, Neal D.) This new law required labeling of every processed, packaged food to contain the names of the food, its net weight, the name and address of the manufacturing distributor, and a list of ingredients (Ernst, Nancy Dillingham, et. Al). Not only did this law strengthen the regulations and rules over the adulteration of food; it also gave the Food and Drug Association more authority over nutrient content of foods. 

     President Bush Sr. signed another crucial law in 1990. This law, called The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, built upon the Fedral Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, by mandating nutrition labeling for most all foods, including standardizing serving sizes on the labels, and calling for a uniform use of health claims (Ernst, Nancy Dillingham, et. Al). This law, as the others, had loopholes; issues relating to food safety, grading, organic, kosher, natural, organic, and date labeling were not included (SOURCE). At the same time the Department of Agriculture was developing this law, a committee was being formed at the Institute of Medicine to figure out how food labels could allow consumers to adapt or adhere to healthy diets. After their study was conducted, that concluded that labeling would indeed improve the health of American’s because it would enable them to make wise and nutritional dietary choices (Symbols, Committee on Examination of Front-of-Package Nutrition Ratings Systems and).

     Within the past 20 years there have been a number of amendments made to food regulation laws. The most recent provisions to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act happened within four years of it passing. The first, proposed in 1991 and enacted in 1992, included that point of produce was added for raw produce, meat, and poultry, as well as nutrition labeling and serving sizes. The most recent provision to the 1990 law was a regulation covering health claims, which was enacted in 1993, and the next was regulations on nutrition labeling and nutrient content claims, enacted in 1994  (Ernst, Nancy Dillingham, et. Al). There have also been new regulatory laws passed. The Food Quality and Protection Act was passed by Congress in 1966 strictly mandated and regulated health-based standards on pesticides used on foods (Fortin, Neal D).

     Since the governments formation of the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Association in 1862, many changes have occurred in the way that companies produce and distribute their products, as well as many changes to how the regulations put on these companies are universal and for the consumers protection. These changes have been extremely important to consumers because of the health and nutrition benefits, as well as to companies. Without these regulations, America’s food industry wouldn’t be as vast and powerful as it is today. 


Ernst, Nancy Dillingham, and The American University. A Case Study of an Agency’s Rulemaking for the Nutrition Labeling and Education ct: Format Matters. ProQuest. 1998. 

Fortin, Neal D. Food Regulation, Law, Science, Policy, and Practice. Wiley, 2011. 

Hickmann, Meredity A. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Nova Publishers, 2003. 

Hubbert, William T. Food Safety and Wuality Assurance, Foods of Animal Origin. Wiley-Blackwell, 1996. 

Labeling, Institute of Medicine. Committee on State Food, Donna Viola Porter, and Robert O. Earl. Food Labeling, Toward National Uniformity. National Academies Press, 1992. 

Symbols, Committee on Examination of Front-of-Package Nutrition Ratings Systems and, Ellen A. Wartella, Institute of Medicine, Alice H. Lichtenstein, and Aitlin S. Boon. Examination of Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols, Phase I Report. Natl Academy Pr. 2012

Toldra, Fidel. Safety of Meat and Processed Meat. Springer Verlag, 2011. 


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