Bread and Butter Policy: Food Identity Standards in the United States, 1938-2022
In the history of American food legislation, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and its famous muckraking origins dominate the narrative. What is less known, is that the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was ineffective and was soon replaced as a part of the New Deal by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FDCA). The new law featured a novel update: instead of telling food manufacturers what not to do, the new law allowed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stipulate what food manufacturers must do. This new power, known as the standard of identity provision, allowed the FDA to legally establish formulation and naming requirements to ensure that products matched purity expectations. Over the course of the 80-year history of the FDCA, the FDA has created more than 300 standards of identity for foods like bread, milk, and peanut butter.According to the FDCA, the food identity standards are intended to “promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers,” however the FDA’s limited educational campaigns about the food identity standards, opaque framing process, and preference for protecting Anglo-American foods have hampered consumers from understanding or engaging with the food identity standards. Government documents, periodicals, court cases, and consumer information reveal that food identity standards have more effectively represented state and industry interests through preferential access in proposing standards, participation in hearings and amending standards. Nevertheless, tracing the history of the food identity standards also demonstrates the presence of a long pure food movement. While existing scholarship on the pure food movement ends in 1906 or 1938, the history of the food identity standards links threads of post-1938 pure food activism among housewives, the counterculture, class actions and more to demonstrate a long pure foods movement that continues into the 21st century.