You see it in commercials, the news, websites and more for new products. Companies say their products are “FDA approved,” but how can you know for sure what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves?
FDA is responsible for protecting public health by regulating human drugs and biologics, animal drugs, medical devices, tobacco products, food (including animal food), cosmetics, and electronic products that emit radiation.
Some products do not undergo premarket approval — that is, a review of safety and effectiveness by FDA experts and agency approval before a product can be marketed. In some cases, FDA’s enforcement efforts focus on products after they are already for sale. Even when FDA approval is not required before a product is sold, the agency has authority to act when safety issues arise.
Consumer activists have championed their causes for hundreds of years. In the 1880s, Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, M.D. was the champion for safe food. He is known as the “Father of the Pure Food and Drugs Act” and also directed the Bureau of Foods, Sanitation, and Health for Good Housekeeping magazine.
In 1902, as the chief chemist at what is now the Department of Agriculture, Dr. Wiley organized a volunteer group of healthy men known as the Poison Squad. These men were tasked to eat foods that contained chemicals and adulterated foods to see how it affected them. No women were allowed in this group. As a result of these dangerous tests, Federated Women’s Clubs and commercial canners changed many procedures and methods to make food safer. In June 1906, the Pure Food and Drugs Act was signed into law, leading into the creation of the Food and Drug Administration.
When Dr. Wiley left his government position in 1912, the news headline read: “Women Weep as Watchdog of the Kitchen Quits after 29 Years.”