In Food We Trust: The Politics of Purity in American Food Regulation

In Food We Trust: The Politics of Purity in American Food Regulation

In Food We Trust: The Politics of Purity in American Food Regulation

In Food We Trust: The Politics of Purity in American Food Regulation

Synopsis

One of the great myths of contemporary American culture is that the United States' food supply is the safest in the world because the government works to guarantee food safety and enforce certain standards on food producers, processors, and distributors. In reality U.S. food safety administration and oversight have remained essentially the same for more than a century, with the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 continuing to frame national policy despite dramatic changes in production, processing, and distribution throughout the twentieth century.

In Food We Trust is the first comprehensive examination of the history of food safety policy in the United States, analyzing critical moments in food safety history from Upton Sinclair's publication of The Jungle to Congress's passage of the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act. With five case studies of significant food safety crises ranging from the 1959 chemical contamination of cranberries to the 2009 outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter, In Food We Trust contextualizes a changing food regulatory regime and explains how federal agencies are fundamentally limited in their power to safeguard the food supply.

Excerpt

This is a story about food safety regulation in the United States. It begins at the turn of the twentieth century, a time when the Progressive and Pure Food movements combined forces to pass and implement the country’s first food safety legislation: the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the 1906 Federal Meat Inspection Act. In the name of food purity, both laws prohibited the adulteration of food products. They were revolutionary for their time because they empowered the federal government to protect consumers from unwholesome and misbranded foods. The story continues throughout the century as changes in food production and distribution alongside scientific revolutions in biology and chemistry transformed our understandings of “safe food” and thus challenged the 1906 framework.

When today’s consumers think about food safety, they are far more likely to think about microbial contamination than they are to think about food adulteration. However, the regulatory environment that governs food safety has not changed, despite advances in science and shifts in public perception. In short, at the turn of the twenty-first century, a hundred years after the first food safety laws were passed in the United States, federal regulators could prevent peanut butter producers from adulterating their products with sawdust but could not prevent them from selling products contaminated with Salmonella. Why? How is it possible that the U.S. food safety regulatory regime remained unchanged for a hundred years? Why did the United States remain beholden to nineteenth-century notions of purity and wholesomeness while other developed countries updated their . . .

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