The practice of adding harmful chemicals and colors in food and other widely used products was virtually uncontrolled 100 hundred years ago. “Quick remedies” were especially deceiving as many “cure-alls” actually worsened health and usually created additional ailments. Science Friday provides an example of mercury treatments that claimed to calm teething babies. Not only would the product guarantee to minimize pain, some even promised to “strengthen the child” and “make baby fat as a pig.”
Mercury treatments like the above mentioned were the standard medical treatment for everything from melancholy to syphilis. As such, the United States was very slow in recognizing the need for national food and drug regulations. Beginning in 1862 “with a chemical study of grape juice for winemaking,” the first reported project of what would become the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was underway. Below is the rocky start to the organization and what the FDA has to do with labels today.
The Beginning of Food and Drug Regulations
According to an FDA historian, “medicines containing such drugs as opium, morphine, heroin, and cocaine were sold without restriction. Labeling gave no hint of their presence.” As far as food went, milk was tainted with water and chemicals and the possibility of copper pesticides being harmful to humans was a new idea.
Small grassroots efforts, like The Pure Food Movement,” began to take place but it wasn’t until the early 18th century when Harvey Wiley, the soon-to-be first commissioner of the FDA, began investigating and reporting on the deceptive nature of so-called “cure-alls.”
In the early 18th century, Wiley assembled a volunteer “poison squad” where young men agreed to only consume foods that had been treated with measured amounts of chemicals such as borax and different kinds of acid. The point of the squad was to demonstrate whether certain additives were harmful to their health.
The experiment lasted 5 years and the outcome was somewhat ambiguous, but one thing that Wiley and the public become convinced of is that chemical preservatives should only be used when necessary and that no chemical additives should be used without stating so on the label. These are the basic principles of today’s FDA food label regulations.
How Consumers Shape The Label Industry
Over the past 5-10 years, consumers have become increasingly aware of every ingredient and additive that goes into the food they eat and the products they use, which in turn holds companies increasingly more accountable for the items they sell. It’s become a movement that has truly shaped the food and beauty industry.
In our blog 2019 Food Label Trends, we showed how Kashi Brands has changed their packaging to reflect ingredients that they know matter most to their customers. Popular terms cosmetic companies are using to market their products are vegan, cruelty-free, and paraben and phthalate free. “The power of the people” is a valid statement when it’s applied to the label industry. Brands have to adapt with their customers and the move towards ensuring what we put in our bodies and on our bodies is creating many opportunities for brands to take out ingredients that don’t serve a purpose their customers are seeking and adding in ingredients that are.
When they do, they’ll need new labels. If you find yourself in the same position and need to update your label, fill out our Quick Quote form.