The Food and Drug Administration is the oldest comprehensive consumer protection agency in the U. S. federal government. Since 1848 the federal government has used chemical analysis to monitor the safety of agricultural products -- a responsibility inherited by the Department of Agriculture in 1862 and later by the FDA.
Although it was not known by its present name until 1930, FDA’s modern regulatory functions began with the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act, a law a quarter-century in the making that prohibited interstate commerce in adulterated and misbranded food and drugs. Harvey Washington Wiley, Chief Chemist of the USDA Bureau of Chemistry, had been the driving force behind this law and headed its enforcement in the early years, providing basic elements of protection that consumers had never known before that time.
Since then, the FDA has changed along with social, economic, political and legal changes in the United States. Examining the history of these changes illuminates the evolving role that FDA has played in promoting public health and offers lessons to consider as we evaluate current regulatory challenges.