Meat Inspection Laws

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MEAT INSPECTION LAWS. In 1906, Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, a novel about unsanitary conditions in Chicago meat-packing plants and the social inequalities suffered by the laboring classes working there. While the social commentary was largely ignored, the public was outraged at the grisly descriptions of meat production, including how the packers treated diseased beef with kerosene to hide its foul smell before placing it on the market. Sinclair claimed that such "embalmed beef" had killed more American solders in the Spanish-American War than had died in battle.

The health horrors described in The Jungle cut the sale of meat products almost in half. The push for regulation thus came not only from the public, but also from some meat-packing companies that believed food quality regulation was necessary to restore public confidence in processed meat products. Prompted by such pressures, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered a secret investigation of Sinclair's charges. After less than three weeks in Chicago, Roosevelt's investigators substantiated Sinclair's claims. In response to these findings, Congress passed two important laws, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which regulated food and drug processing, and the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) of 1907, which focused on the meat industry.

FMIA, which remains in effect today, requires the inspection of all animals before slaughtering to prevent the commercial use of adulterated meat and meat products. The Act also requires the postmortem inspection of all carcasses and animal parts to determine their fitness

for human consumption. The Act also includes provisions for the proper labeling of meat, and it imposes strict sanitation standards for slaughtering and packing plants.

FMIA was among the nation's first consumer protection measures, and it established a basis for broad government oversight. More than one thousand pages of the Code of Federal Regulations now govern animal inspection, processing, and commerce. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), an agency within the U.S. Department of agriculture, currently inspects and regulates all meat and poultry moving in interstate commerce, pursuant to FMIA.

The FSIS has been criticized as using obsolete and inflexible methods that cannot effectively identify, monitor, and control food-related illnesses. Almost a century after the passage of FMIA, more than 9,000 people were still dying each year in the United States due to food-related illnesses, and another 6.5 to 33 million people were still developing nonfatal food-borne sicknesses.


Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1906.

Young, James Harvey. Pure Food: Securing the Federal Food and Drug Act of 1906. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.


See alsoChicago ; Meatpacking .