Have you noticed any rat feces in your food lately? More than likely not. There are at least two possibilities for why this is. The first one is that thriving corporatists decided that it would be in the best interest of the public to regulate their plants and make healthier food, in a more thorough and healthier way, no matter the cost. This, however, is doubtful. In the early nineteen hundreds, corporations proved they would rather make money than make healthy products. This is where the FDA comes in. The FDA, or the Food and Drug Administration, was created to keep rat feces, among other things, out of consumers' food. The question however, is how has the FDA affected the health of Americans since it was founded? What is the FDA's relationship with additives the preservatives that are most affordable for corporate food producers, and how does their regulation impact the organic foods and farmers markets that are the healthiest for us? The FDA seems more concerned with the revolving door than with the health of the American people.
In the early twentieth century, near the end of Theodore Roosevelt's second term as President of the United States
, Upton Sinclair, a journalist from Chicago
, wrote a book titled The Jungle
. Sinclair's intent when writing this book was to inspire a socialist society and form of government and to also advocate for workers' rights. While he did not exactly achieve that goal, he did contribute to the safety of American society. He opened the eyes of the public, and of Theodore Roosevelt, to the problems of the food production industry at the time. Because of The Jungle
, Theodore Roosevelt took immediate action to first investigate, and then regulate food production. Being as fit and health conscious as he was, one can imagine how disgusted President Roosevelt might have been at the things in Sinclair's book. Not only was it the age of yellow journalism and sensationalism, but Roosevelt did not trust or like Upton Sinclair, writing to William Allen White after the publication of The Jungle
, "... contempt for [Sinclair]. He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods" (Morison 340). Still, Sinclair was in Roosevelt's head - and Roosevelt
took action. His first action was to send Labor Commissioner Charles P. Neill and social worker James Bronson Reynolds to Chicago
to make surprise visits to meat packing facilities. Roosevelt
wouldn't allow for the release of the Neill-Reynolds report even though he couldn't deny what was in it and how it verified everything that Sinclair had written. So in addresses and speeches to the public, Roosevelt
would talk about these issues until public pressure lead to Congress passing regulatory legislation. There were two Acts to immediately come out of Congress: The Meat Inspection Act, which worked to prevent adulterated or misbranded meat and meat products from being sold as food and to ensure that animals were killed and meat was processed under sanitary conditions; and, two - the Pure Food and Drug Act. This act, when passed into law, provided federal inspection of meat products and forbade the manufacture, sale or transportation of adulterated food products and poisonous patent medicines. The Pure Food and Drug Act also established the Bureau of Chemistry, which would become the Food and Drug Administration in the 1930s.
What was it about The Jungle
that drove people, even the President of the United States
, to action? In the year of 1904, Upton Sinclair, a journalist as well as a political and social activist, spent seven weeks in disguise working undercover in a Chicago meatpacking plant so that he could do research for a fictional expose he wanted to write on workers' rights. The aforementioned project, when it came to fruition was "The Jungle'. Again, his original intent was to show how bad the working conditions in these plants where and so he was dismayed when people didn't react to how bad the working conditions were, saying that his celebrity rose, not because the public cared anything about the workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef" (Sullivan 222).
"This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat will be shoveled into carts and the man who did the shoveling will not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one" (Sinclair 162). This quote shows that is seems a great possibility that a lack of workers' rights, as it were, lead to a couple of different issues that affected the quality of the food, and thus, how healthy it was or was not for a person to consume. This is glaringly obvious in the above quote as the workers were either so unhappy with their working conditions and pay that they did not care how the meat turned out -- that is, they did not care if it had an entire rat in it or not. Or, the second possibility is that they were too over worked to notice such a thing as a rat in meat meant for human consumption. One of the two above reasons is probably why they washed their hands in water that would later be used to produce meat.
The hope is that now that the FDA exists, Americans do not have to worry about mice or rats in our food. Not according to Pepsico. Defending itself in a recent lawsuit claiming that the plaintiff found a rat in his Mountain Dew, Pepsico contended that a rodent would have disintegrated and been transformed into a "jelly-like substance between the time of the bottling and the day the plaintiff claimed to have purchased it (Mountain). And unfortunately this is only the beginning of the FDA's neglect. "The agency under the Department of Health (DOH), in its Advisory 2011-016 signed by Director Suzette Lazo, urged the public to adopt safe ways to prevent illness that might be acquired by eating food contaminated with microbial or chemical elements" (Pigging). While the FDA could take measures to prevent microbial and chemical elements from contaminating food, they instead choose to wait until it is too late. They wait until the American people are going to be eating a lot of a certain food and then decide to issue an "Advisory' and encourage people to be careful of the things they buy. This, of course, allows the FDA to look like they are doing their jobs while someone who works twelve hour shifts, seven days a week, must now take on the dubious task of making sure he buys non-contaminated food for his children, a task the FDA could have relieved him of. The point is that the FDA is supposed to regulate the industry, from growth to production to sales; they are supposed to make sure there are no mice, poisons or unfriendly chemicals in the foods that Americans consume.
Congress recently passed a bill called The Food Safety Modernization Act. What did it do for the public? According to a recent Newsweek article, " while it would go a long way toward dealing with pathogens in our food supply, the bill largely ignores a different type of food-safety worry: hazardous man-made chemicals" (Yarett). While this source can be seen to show the neglect of Congress, it is not meant to, instead, it just shows further the neglect of the FDA. The FDA was created to regulate the food and drug industries, not to take kickbacks from Monsanto and Pfizer. In two thousand and eleven alone, Monsanto and Pfizer were just two of the companies who paid a grand total of thirty-seven million to the lobbying firm Gump Akin (OpenSecrets). Another example of a kickback is the case of Ralph Tyler, who retired from the FDA only to take a job at Venable Law Firm which is known for helping drug and device makers (Silverman). It is an agency of the federal government; isn't it supposed to regulate the food, the way it is grown or raised, and the way it is produced? Was not the FDA an organization formed in reaction to the poor quality of food that Americans faced? Maybe not. Congress dealt with pathogens in the food supply, but neither Congress nor the FDA address or have addressed man-made chemicals.
What are these man-made chemicals, and why are they so bad anyway? Recently Proctor & Gamble, a Fortune 500 multinational corporation that received $82.6 billion in sales in 2011, created a synthetic fat substitute called Olestra. The selling point of Olestra is that it is neither absorbed nor digested in the body, so it can be sold in foods as a "zero calorie' alternative to other fats. And in this rushed, diet-oriented culture, zero calorie foods are appreciated. Here's the problem: "Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools in some individuals, and [it] inhibits the body's absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients" (Fake). The FDA, again lobbied by the Gump Akin Lobbying Group, who received one hundred and sixty thousand from Proctor & Gamble alone, approved this synthetic fat substitute to be used in food. While this sounds like an issue, some would counter, saying that consumers understand what they are buying and are okay with the drawbacks. They may have a valuable point, but look at the counter argument. These snacks will be marketed to the parents of growing children, who will need the fat-soluble vitamins and the nutrients that should otherwise be in those snacks. These snacks will also be marketed to those on diets, as they want to consume as few calories as possible. There are, of course, a few problems with this. Someone who works out may need to cut calories, but calories are energy and without energy one would not want to perform optimally, especially if that someone ends up having less energy and becomes bloated. Ultimately a concerned citizen could conduct his or her own research, but with the tax dollars we pay every year to the federal government, we should not have to do any research to be guaranteed healthy food that is actually healthy.
Surely amongst all of this, the FDA would at least allow for General Mills to market Cheerios as "Heart Healthy' without too much fuss. Actually, it seems that the FDA wants to create a level playing field. They seem to want the positives and the negatives to be as minimally marketed to the public as possible. "Foods that promote certain benefits are now, according to the FDA, considered to be and must meet the regulatory requirements for drugs" (Your). That's okay though; a little extra paperwork, a little more money out of pocket and our favorite oat cereals stay on the shelves and continue to carry the "Heart Healthy' label. Not exactly. It takes the FDA eight to ten years to approve a new drug. Imagine ten years without Cheerios, or walnuts for that matter. The medical experts at the Mayo Clinic trumpet the value of eating walnuts as part of a heart-healthy diet and endorse the nuts' cholesterol-lowering benefits, the informed Diamond Foods that it cannot tell consumers its shelled walnuts can help prevent heart disease" (Your).
has made tremendous progress in the area of food safety since the early 20th century. However, in recent decades the globalization and mechanization of food production has given rise to a variety of food-safety concerns. For example, bacterial contamination of lettuce grown on aCalifornia
farm, or the use of an unsafe food additive made at a plant inChina
, can harm a fast-food consumer in Pennsylvania
" (Food). Ultimately every example comes down to one very huge problem. People within the FDA, according to GlassDoor.com, make anywhere from ten thousand a year (as interns) to two hundred and seven thousand dollars a year as a Lead Medical Officer (GlassDoor). If the FDA did not exist, then this money could be freed up to go anywhere, to go into Social Security or to go into Education. What is the task of the FDA? To make sure that the food production industry delivers to the populace healthy food. The FDA seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
The Food and Drug Administration was created during the Progressive Era as a response to some of the atrocities seen in the food production industry. The FDA was founded in part to regulate the food production industry. But instead of regulating the plants that produce the food that the American public eats, the FDA listens and capitulates to the lobbyist. The unfortunate problem with these lobbyists is that they are paid by big corporations, like Monsanto, who care more about a profit then they do about the health of the American public. It is because the FDA lets money talk that the American public at large end up with rats in the Mountain Dew they drink, diarrhea-inducing synthetic fat substitutes in snack foods and a cereal aisle with no Cheerios, at least for eight to ten years while it goes through the same regulatory process as Lipitor, Viagra and Claritin. Why? Not because the FDA is worried that Cheerios may have the same adverse side-effects as these drugs do, but because Cheerios are actually healthy for you and probably do not use Proctor & Gamble's fat substitutes or have oats grown with Monsanto's chemicals. Still, no matter what happens to the public, no matter what is in the food that they consume and no matter what adverse effects these foods have on the people who eat them, the employees, from the interns, to the inspectors, all the way to Margaret Hamburg, who is the Commissioner of Food and Drugs over at the FDA are still going to take home their tax payer funded paycheck each and every year. This leaves the average American to fumble around in food aisles, restaurants and the internet, wondering what is healthy and what is not. This means that Americans have to pay to have an FDA, but all they get from it are synthetic fat substitutes, preservatives and foods made primarily of chemicals. Next time you are at the store and you pick up a three year old ham or a two year old can of green beans and smile at the wonder of science, remember that preservatives cause everything from asthma and vomiting, to cancer and death; and the FDA is not doing a single thing about it (Jordan
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