What is the Pure Food and Drug Act?

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  • Written By: M. Lupica
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2020
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The Pure Food and Drug Act is a federal law enacted by the United States Legislature in 1906 mandating that anything sold or manufactured for consumption in the United States be labeled properly, informing the purchaser if the items contain certain substances. The Pure Food and Drug Act also made it a criminal misdemeanor to sell or transport for sale any food with packaging that did not meet the standards of the law. In addition to the labeling requirements, the powers granted to the United States Department of Agriculture led to the creation of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Meat Inspection Act of 1906 is often cited with the Pure Food and Drug Act as complimentary legislation that is the root of food regulation law in the United States.

The Pure Food and Drug Act’s main aim was to inform consumers of the existence of certain substances in food that was available for general purchase. The substances specifically named in the Pure Food and Drug Act included alcohol, morphine, opium, cocaine, heroin, and cannabis as at the time it was not strange for foods to contain such chemicals. The law did not prohibit the sale of such items. Rather, it mandated that any food sold for consumption that contained any of those chemicals be labeled as such with the amount of the chemical contained in the food.


Anyone found to violate this law by the sale or manufacture of food not properly labeled could be held criminally liable for a misdemeanor charge. The law authorized penalties of up to $200 US Dollars (USD) for the first offense. For any subsequent offense, the offender could be charged up to $300 (USD) and up to a year in prison at the discretion of the court. The Pure Food and Drug Act authorized officers of the United States Department of Agriculture to collect any item for the purpose of examining the product and enforcing the law. These powers granted to the Department of Agriculture led to the creation of various departments that eventually became the FDA.

Together with the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 formed the base of food regulation laws in the United States. The Meat Inspection Act was directed at the unsanitary meat industry and instituted precautionary measures to ensure that the meat produced by slaughterhouses would be fit for human consumption. Under this law, animals were required to pass inspection by the appropriate governmental agency both before and after slaughter, and cleanliness standards for slaughterhouses were established and strictly enforced.


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