food and drug law

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Food production has been regulated in the United States since the mid–1800s. But it was not until 1906, when both the Food and Drug Act (21 U.S.C. 1 et seq.) and the Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) were enacted, that the government took major steps to protect consumers. The Food and Drug Act prohibited interstate commerce in misbranded and adulterated foods, drinks, and drugs. While it has since been repealed, new laws regulate a wide range of consumer products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one of the oldest consumer protection agencies in this country. Since 1979, it has been part of the Department of Health and Human Services. It regulates products that account for over one fourth of all consumer spending. The FDA protects the public from unsafe foods to drugs and from medical devices to cosmetics. It also protects the rights and safety of patients in clinical trials of new medical products and monitors the promotional activities of drug and device manufacturers. The FDA even regulates the labeling of all packaged foods and the safety of the nation's blood supply.

Among important related laws passed in the United States are: the Food Additives Amendment of 1957, requiring the evaluation of food additives to establish safety; the Delaney Clause of 1958, forbidding the use of substances found in foods causing cancer in laboratory animals; the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, regulating cosmetics and therapeutic devices; the Kefauver–Harris Drug Amendments of 1962, requiring drug manufacturers to show that their drugs were safe; and the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, requiring all packaged foods to carry labels with nutrition information.

Federal Material

U.S. Constitution and Federal Statutes
  • 21 U.S.C.
  • CRS Annotated Constitution
Federal Regulations
  • Title 21 C.F.R.

Federal Judicial Decisions
  • U.S. Supreme Court:

    • Recent Decisions on Food and Drug Issues 

State Material

State Statutes
  • State Statutes Dealing with Agriculture

  • State Statutes Dealing with Health

Key Internet Resources

Federal Agencies
  • U.S.Food and Drug Administration

[Last updated in May of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]