In 1912, Mrs. Winslow created a soothing syrup for teething and colicky babies. It was a welcomed relief for exhausted new mothers and a calming elixir for little ones struggling to settle down and rest comfortably. The problem was, this medication, marketed to new moms with fussy babies, was unlabeled and laced with morphine. Many babies died after taking this syrup.
Although there had been several attempts through Congress to monitor and regulate false therapeutic claims intended to defraud the purchaser, it was a standard that was difficult to prove. Use of preservatives and chemicals in food was basically uncontrolled. Sanitation was primitive. Milk was unpasteurized and cows were not tested for tuberculosis.
Medicines such as “Kick-a-poo Indian Sagwa” and Warner’s Safe Cure for Diabetes reflected the “buyer beware” mentality of the time, the prevalent thought that the buyer needs to look out for himself. Medicines such as these and others contained drugs such as opium, morphine, heroin, and cocaine, but labeling on the products gave no hint of their presence. Labels did not list any ingredients and warnings against misuse were unheard of. Any information the public received came strictly from bitter experience.
After public opinion was sparked again due to a shocking disclosure that more than 100 people had died from a poisonous “elixir of sulfanilamide,” President Roosevelt signed the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938 and many new improvements began to be made in the food labeling industry. Here are some of the changes that were initially enacted:
- Drug manufacturers were required to provide scientific proof that new products could be safely used, before putting them on the market.
- Cosmetics and therapeutic devices were regulated for the first time.
- Proof of fraud was no longer required to stop false claims for drugs.
- Addition of poisonous substances to foods was prohibited except where unavoidable or required in production. Safe tolerances were authorized
for residues of such substances, for example, pesticides.
- Specific authority was provided for factory inspections.
- Food standards were required to be set up when needed “to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers.”
- Federal court injunctions against violations were added to the previous legal remedies of product seizures and criminal prosecutions.
Over time, these regulations have evolved and improved the standards of food preparation and labeling. The fairly recent Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 requires all packaged foods to bear nutrition labeling and all health claims for foods to be consistent with the terms defined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. This law, for the first time, authorizes some health claims for foods and utilizes a food ingredient panel, serving sizes and terms such as “low fat” and “light” that have currently become standardized among consumers.
Food labels today make an attempt to educate and inform consumers about what’s inside the package. Federal regulations and restrictions require disclosure about nutrient content and honesty in making claims about the product’s health effects. Consumers overall are more aware of what they are consuming because of the development of more detailed nutrient labeling and safer food standards.
If you are just starting a food or beverage business need guidance as to what information is required on your label, contact Louisville Label. We have been in business since 1907. Our history dates back more than 100 years to when we first sold labels and supplies to pharmacies and apothecaries. After printing hundreds of thousands of labels, we have learned a lot. Our knowledgeable salespeople can walk you through the current regulations and answer any questions you may have about getting your product on store shelves.