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October 18, 1985

The Food and Drug Administration: how 'those regulations' came to be

JAMA. 1985;254(15):2037-2043. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03360150011001

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"Many physicians have no idea what conditions were like in this country before federal drug regulation," says Wallace F. Janssen, the Food and Drug Administration's historian. "Without understanding the historical reasons leading up to our food and drug laws, these physicians can't understand why we need the kind of regulations we have."

Listening to Janssen, it soon becomes clear that this country's food and drug laws are really a variation on an age-old theme and must be understood in that context. As Janssen explains, ever since human communities began farming and trading rather than hunting and gathering, food and drug laws have been necessary to ensure safety and fair dealing.

For example, ancient Egyptians and Hebrews had laws about handling meat, while early Greek and Roman laws prohibited adding water to wine. In other societies, a royal household's "taster" would protect the king from poisoning.

Later, Janssen continues, laws and