Harvey Washington Wiley, MD [Biography]

Author unknown

Summary: A biographical sketch of the famous first chief of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (known at the time as the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry). Dr. Wiley, a product of the populist age, was a champion of consumer safety when it came to the American food supply and was often referred to as the “Father of the Pure Food Law” of 1906. Read about Dr. Wiley’s ascension to power and his much-publicized fall as he fought in vain to keep synthetic preservatives and additives out of the national diet. If Dr. Wiley had had his way, all of America’s food would now be organic. (See also Dr. Wiley’s monumental book History of a Crime Against the Food Law in these archives.) Original source and date of publication unknown.

USDA on the Allowance of Chemical Additives in Food

By R.W. Dunlap, Assistant Secretary of the USDA

Summary: If you’re looking for a smoking gun regarding the chemical adulteration of food in America, this is it. In this 1925 letter to President Calvin Coolidge, the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Agrculture (USDA) admits that the department cannot legally prevent the addition of chemical additives of unknown safety to America’s food supply. The reason, he says, is that certain federal courts pronounced such chemicals acceptable if no evidence of harm is shown in people who consume foods containing small amounts of them. Not only did the courts’ decisions put the onus of proving long-term ill effects of suspected poisons squarely on the government, but with such evidence nearly impossible to show conclusively and requiring years of study (the technology for which not even existing at the time), the basic policy of food adulteration in America was set: to err on the side of commerce, not public health. As the secretary points out, the opposing, “better safe than sorry” policy of Dr. Harvey Wiley—the former head of the USDA’s Bureau of Chemistry (forerunner of the FDA) who publicly criticized the federal rulings as violating the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act passed by Congress—would simply not stand up in court, where the decision to allow deleterious additives into the food supply had been finagled into law. 

Hidden Dangers in White Bread

By James Rorty

Summary: This article of “the suppressed facts” regarding flour bleaching details just why commercial bread in America is “worthless and unsafe.” In spite of its tabloid-like style, this 1956 magazine article boasts some solid reporting, recounting the early resistance to flour bleaching by America’s millers as well as by Dr. Harvey Wiley, the first head of the Food and Drug Administration. In the end Dr. Wiley was shown the door, and the FDA became abettors of the food processors’ actions—hampered, as one “honest but resigned” FDA official says in the article—by the onus on the administration to prove a substance is harmful before it can legally bar it from manufacturing. “We’ve practically got to produce a corpse before we can claim they’re poisoning your food,” the FDA agent adds. The author also discusses the history of nitrogen trichloride, which was used to bleach bread in America for 40 years until it was finally shown in studies to cause fits in animals. While the use of the old bleach was discontinued, the process of bleaching was not, and the author excoriates the FDA for allowing the use of a new bleach, chlorine dioxide, that it admits is toxic but “probably safe as normally used” (which, of course, is what it had said about nitrogen trichloride.) A great article debunking the myth of America as the “best-fed nation on Earth.” From the National Police Gazette, 1954. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 75. 

The War Between Health Foods and Death Foods

By Dr. Royal Lee

Summary: If there are “health food stores” today, what motivated their creation? In this article from the 1956 issue of the National Health Federation Bulletin, Dr. Royal Lee recounts some of the events and decisions that paved the way for the appalling condition of the American diet, showing how the processed-food industry and self-proclaimed public and private health authorities sold the health of the American public down the river and branded all opposition to refined foods as faddists, quacks, and racketeers. No one recites this tale better and with more provable facts than Royal Lee. He was there. Reprint 301, 1956.