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Digital History ID 3142

 

At the beginning of the 20th century, milk distributors frequently adulterated milk by adding chalk or plaster to improve its color and molasses and water to cut costs. Meatpackers killed rats by putting poisoned pieces of bread on their floors; sometimes, the poisoned rats made their way onto the production lines.

The publication of Upton Sinclair's book,The Jungle, exposed unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry, generating widespread public support for federal inspection of meatpacking plants. The Department of Agriculture disclosed the dangers of chemical additives in canned foods. A muckraking journalist named Samuel Hopkins uncovered misleading and fraudulent claims in non-prescription drugs.

To deal with these problems the federal government enacted:

  • The Meat Inspection Act (1906), mandating government enforcement of sanitary and health standards in meatpacking plants;
  • The Pure Food and Drug Act (1906), prohibiting false advertising and harmful additives in food

Progressives often portrayed their battles as simply the latest example of an older struggle between "the people" and business interests and proponents of democracy against the defenders of special privilege. In fact, this view is quite misleading. Corporate managers were often strong supporters of Progressive reform. During Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, mining companies worked closely with the administration in order to try to rationalize the extraction of natural resources. Big meatpackers promoted the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 to prevent smaller packers from exporting bad meat and closing foreign markets to all American meat products.

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