The Effects of Food Security Regulation in the Progressive Era

“Muckrakers”, urban growth, progressive reforms, social justice, democracy, anti-monopoly are some terms associated with the Progressive Era (1900-1920). During the Progressive Era- a reform movement designed to solve the issues and crises in the United States’ society and set the stage for longevity of change. This era was structured to improve or rather encourage social justice (relating to improving living and working conditions), democracy (less political corruption) and anti-monopolies. A vast number of progressive issues were outlined and improved in the form of regulations and laws.

For instance, the ratifications of the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th amendments; even though the 19th amendment was truly effective in 1919- it was still established, a drastic change. The “busting” of big corporations and monopolies were evident in the era; hence increasing competition among small businesses resulting in more “reasonable” prices for the American population (Miller). Although the Progressive Era was perceived as the “light at the tunnel”; the food industry- embedded along with immigrants and the inhumane working conditions they “were” forced with “slave” in- was in the spotlight of Progressive reformers, especially Theodore Roosevelt (a progressive president).

In the Progressive Era, the economy was booming in all aspects as industrial production increased; and in the eyes of the Food industry- this rapid growth triggered the inhumane tactics towards employed “slaves” and all focus was driven to mass production and advertisement to increase profits. The need for the Progressors’ interventions, were evident throughout the era. Initially, cattle and pigs were infected with tuberculosis and trichinosis, rapidly in the era.

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Additionally, the prevalence of bacilli from sputum (mixture of saliva and mucus) of a population among whom pulmonary tuberculosis is more prevalent- were the individuals employed or rather gathered to “alter” and “pack” the meats (Levin). With the help of Upton Sinclair-The Jungle, a muckraker; a muckraker is simply an individual who disturbs a mass of muck either orally, legibly as Upton Sinclair and others. Sinclair mentioned in his book that “it was the custom, as they found, whenever meat was so spoiled that it could not be used for anything else, either to can it or else to chop it up into sausage” (135). Sinclair further accounted that “the meat taken out of pickle would often be found sour, and how they would rub it up with soda to take away the smell, and sell it to be eaten on free-lunch counters; also of all the miracles of chemistry which they performed, giving to any sort of meat, fresh or salted, whole or chopped, any color and any flavor and any odor they chose”(135).

Sinclair’s book “raked” up the muck of the Meat industry. It provided the unbiased and uncut reality of what was happening in the Progressive era. He even explained that if “there would be hams found spoiled, some of them with an odor so bad that a man could hardly bear to be in the room with them…for these hams- a much stronger pickle was used to destroy the odor- a process known to the workers as giving them thirty per cent” (Sinclair 136). One could see that the industry was equipped with a variety of measures. In other words, if Plan A, B, C, D, E did not work, a Plan F was intact. One such instance was the deceptive tactics of “extracting the bone of the deadly meats and inserting a hole. After which the meats were classified as boneless hams. Then the spoiled hams were improvised by cutting them with two-thousand-revolutions-a-minute flyers accompanied with the mixing with other meat cuttings from Europe old sausage (moldy and white) that had been rejected, dashed with borax and glycerin (Sinclair 136).

Sinclair did not only capture the unethical principles of meatpacking and cross mixing of ingredients; but also, the unbearable working conditions of immigrants as well as, living conditions since they were mostly at work. Sinclair noted in his book that: There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billons of consumption germs. Thousands of rats would race about the piles of meat…a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of dried dung rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poison bread out for them, they would die [great] but then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together. The results were “fancy corned beef”, “special dainty meat” and “meats for emergencies” (136). Furthermore, in the drug industry, labeling was not required for salespersons or drug manufacturers; while these drugs contained dangerous chemicals that would cause massive deaths especially among children and immunocompromised individuals. Similarly, manufacturers were adding dangerous food preservatives in food to increase their shelf lives (Alchin “Roosevelt’s Square Deal”).

These practices and unethical principles of the meatpacking industry as highlighted by Sinclair’s novel, was read by the President Theodore Roosevelt and vast number of other groups such as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC). Auchincloss described that while Roosevelt was reading The Jungle and having breakfast; he suddenly rose from the table- crying “I’m pizened” and began throwing sausages out the window (83). Roosevelt further tested the accuracy of the insanitation that was occurring in Chicago- since he witnessed “special beef” had killed more American soldiers than Spanish bullets. To get unbiased findings from the factory, he requested two trustworthy advisors; the United States commissioner of labor and a New York social worker, Charles P. Neill and James Reynolds respectively, to visit and conclude their findings, which were in cohesiveness with the evidence of The Jungle (Chicago Tribune). With the “progressive festivity” in the air- reforms were inevitable with Roosevelt on board; since he contributed to the change from a legislative to a more presidential domain. Roosevelt pushed Congress to pass regulations; thus the “birth” of the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act in 1906 on the thirtieth day of June. The Pure Food and Drug Act (PFDA) was the first federal law to “police” the quality and labeling of food and drugs.

The purpose of the PFDA was to “remedy” the public concerns against the harsh reality of the food industry, as well as, to protect the American population from food-borne diseases (unsafe food) and deceptive schemes of a drug. This aspect of the PFDA, required the labeling of active ingredients in a drug, and that the drug must withhold a “certified” level of purity by the United States Pharmacopeia or other federal certified programs (Alchin “Roosevelt’s Square Deal”). Complementarily, the Meat Inspection Act mandated the Department of Agriculture to inspect al animals both before and after they were slaughtered for human consumption. The act mandated as well, strict trust inspections of the factories, and accurate date and labelling of canned goods (Alchin ““Theodore Roosevelt”). The Pure Food and Drug Act, and the Meat Inspection Act both were tremendously successful; although every law has its glitches. These laws brought about the “Big Shift” in the food and meat industries; even though producers, consumers, and constitutional interests “molded and used” the law to their benefits.

However, with the enactment of the laws, the American population could then see the ingredients of their food, a high percentage of the population were now “remedied” knowing that federal regulations were enforced-hence, the mending of the American population confidence in the food industry. The market failures that were present before the law, were slowly but surely gaining some sort of reputation to the public and others. In other words, the law was effective since it did “solve ’lemons’ problem in the market for many food products. This action benefited certain consumers, who desired better information about product quality, as well as higher-quality producers, who felt that regulation would help them segment the market for their wares” (Glaeser and Goldin). Therefore, the questions of “what is in this”, “will my family be poisoned? – could be answered. Furthermore, on another societal level Glaeser and Goldin explained that: There was a productive role for product quality regulation by scientific experts, who had a comparative advantage in judging the quality of food and drug items.

Since national markets were involved, federal politicians could improve consumer welfare and garner votes by adopting federal regulatory legislation. Under this view Progressive Era Reform: The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 321 there was a market failure to be corrected, and the Pure Food and Drugs Act and its administering agency were a means of solving the problem; regulation was consumer driven and aimed at solving real economic problems (Glaeser and Goldin). With varied associations and personnel involved in the food movement, the relationship of whether the PFDA and Meat Inspection Act were all “blooming” roses came to a crossroad. In other words, some parties benefited from the laws, simultaneously others lost. Glaeser and Goldin highlighted that “some of the laws regulating the food industry were closely tied to the efforts of industry groups to weaken their rivals. For instance, regulations enacted by state governments that required oleomargarine to be colored differently from butter, that prohibited the use of oleomargarine in boarding houses, prisons, or in restaurants, or that tightly regulated or even prohibited its sale were enacted primarily to benefit dairy farmers” (Glaeser and Goldin). He also shed light on the producers shift in the market by explaining that the Meat Inspection Act “satisfied” the cattlemen and local butchers associations, then the large Chicago packers (Glaeser and Goldin).

On the sideline that no law is perfect- The Pure Food and Drug Act, and the Meat Inspection Act demonstrated various downfalls since various associations were involved. One of the downfalls of the laws were the implementation process. Due to the expansion of interstate trade; it was difficult to regulate “all” goods produced both foreign and local. Another downfall was that many states did not enforce the laws or rather they “window-dressed” the laws with ‘little bite’. They further stated that the “regulation was lax in many states not because manufacturers deliberately made it so but rather because government in general was small and budgets were limited. As a result, pure food regulations in many states did little to solve the asymmetric information problem regarding product ingredients” (Glaeser and Goldin). In all dimensions, the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act implemented change and illustrated longevity of success. Even though Upton Sinclair (a contributor to the movement) was not entirely satisfied with one of the main objectives behind his book; which was to expose the working and living conditions of the immigrants hence his remarks, “I aimed for the public’s heart and hit it in the stomach” (Chicago Tribune).

However, the American population and its food and meat economies were improved, at least to say firstly regulated. The ratification of the PFDA, led to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration- which has consistently improved the years until today. For instance, improvements such as the requirement to provide scientific proof that new products could be safely used before putting them on the market, among others presently (Alchin “Roosevelt’s Square Deal”). To deeply highlight the longevity of the passed laws of 1906, today “controlled trials also contribute to effective safety evaluation, and the FDA’s review of all pre-marketing safety data is far more sophisticated than ever before. Drugs undergo a complete evaluation of their metabolism, their interactions with other drugs, and potential differences in safety and effectiveness for people of different genders, ages, and races” (Commissioner). Arguably, the Progressive Era can be torn into two- “the good” and “the downfalls”. It had its failures, but the change was established. There is not one improvement that is considered lasting that is just “microwaved” fixed. These changes have to undergo constant reevaluation and stages- which the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the Meat Inspection Act both demonstrated.

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The Effects of Food Security Regulation in the Progressive Era. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from

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