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President Teddy  Roosevelt: First For, Then Against, Pure Foods

FDA History 07
by Harvey W. Wiley, M.D., the very first commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), then known as the “US Bureau of Chemistry.”

Absurdum est ut alios regat, qui seipsum regire nescit.

"The world has a sure chemistry, by which it extracts what is excellent in its children, and lets fall the infirmIties and limitations of the grandest mind." 
Emerson, Essay on Swedenborg.

   In the early days of the enforcement of the food and drugs act great 
encouragement was given, due to the soundness of President Roosevelt's views as 
to what is whisky. On the other hand the temporary support of the harmfulness of 
benzoate of soda, which lasted for only a few minutes, was then entirely 
abandoned. There was another incident which led me to believe that the President 
thought the Bureau of Chemistry was entirely too radical in its efforts to carry 
out the provisions of the law under the mandates which the law gave it. Of 
course the Bureau simply tried to do, to the best of its ability, the duties 
imposed upon it by the law. All the Bureau of Chemistry could do was to serve as 
a grand jury. Any indictments it might bring could only be reported to the 
Department of Justice and could only be ratified by the decision of the Court. 
Soon after the law went into effect I was called to the White House by the 
President and directed to bring with me Mr. Harrison, the chemist in charge of 
the New Orleans laboratory. At the appointed time Mr Harrison had not arrived, 
due to a failure of the Southern Railway to reach Washington on time. I 
therefore went to the President's office alone. On my arrival I found the 
President in rather an ugly mood. The French Ambassador had complained to him 
that a shipment of vinegar from France to New Orleans had been refused admission 
because of a cluster of grape vines hanging full of grapes portrayed upon the 
label. The analysis had disclosed that the vinegar in question was not sour 
wine, as both name and label indicated, but was an artificial vinegar made by 
passing dilute alcohol, presumably distilled from beet sugar molasses, over 
beech shavings. The shipment was ordered returned to France, with the 
instructions that the grapes should be removed from the label. This was done but 
the grapevine was left. The shipment a second time reached New Orleans, 
whereupon I instructed Mr. Harrison to send it back as the grapevine was just as 
indicative that the vinegar was made of sour wine as were the grapes themselves. 
On reaching the President's office and explaining why young Harrison had not 
accompanied me, he said very sternly:
     "The Food Law is an excellent measure, but it should be administered with 
  some discretion. Full particulars in regard to the proper branding should have 
  been furnished at once." 
   Explaining as best I could to the President I quoted the very words of the 
law itself, namely that an article was misbranded if the label bore any design 
or device or statement which was false or misleading in any particular, that as 
the executive officer I had no choice in the matter, but my only purpose was to 
execute the law as it was written. The scowl on the President's died away and a 
rather benignant smile took its place. He grasped my hand cordially and said:
     " If the French Ambassador bothers you again in matters of this kind tell 
  him to go to Hades." 
   Inasmuch as I valued my friendship for the French Ambassador and his for me 
very highly, I am certain that no one would have expected me to use any such 
language in any subsequent protest made from the French embassy in regard to the 
exclusion of French products from this country under the law. Nevertheless, this 
incident increased the feeling in my own mind that the President was not 
entirely in sympathy with a rigid enforcement of the food and drugs act.
   He evidently felt that the Congress had made a great mistake in placing the 
execution of the law in the Bureau of Chemistry. Mr. Loeb, private secretary to 
President Roosevelt, was strongly impressed that the President considered the 
Chief of the Bureau entirely too radical in his views concerning the harmfulness 
of preservatives. He thought the Chief of the Bureau was lacking in diplomatic 
discretion. The President was undoubtedly still of the opinion that an underling 
who had the temerity to appear before a Congressional committee and denounce a 
presidential policy on reciprocity had few, if any, redeeming traits.

   During the progress of the campaign for pure food legislation, and especially 
during the last one or two years when apparently public sentiment was 
sufficiently aroused and unanimous to warrant the expectation of a speedy 
successful issue, I felt that President Roosevelt was heartily in favor of this 
legislation. The appearance in 1906 of Upton Sinclair Is novel entitled "The 
Jungle," brought public opinion to the pitch of indignant excitement. President 
Roosevelt was eagerly in quest of a law supervising the packing of our animal 
food products. The time of the session was so nearly at an end, that it seemed 
hopeless to bring in a meat inspection bill as an expansion of the food and 
drugs bill. It was deemed best, therefore, to try to engraft the meat inspection 
bill as a rider on the agricultural appropriation measure. I am not aware 
whether at that period it was a violation of the rules to introduce legislation 
on an appropriation bill; at the present time it is. At any rate, a rider 
satisfactory to the President was offered to the appropriation bill in the House 
of Representatives. It was not adopted, however, except after serious mutilation 
of the measure. The chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Mr. 
Wadsworth, thought the offered measure was too drastic and uncalled for by those 
engaged in our meat industry. President Roosevelt was greatly disturbed at the 
changes made in the measure, but was powerless to prevent such modification as 
the House Committee on Agriculture thought desirable. It is not quite certain 
whether the Agricultural Appropriation Bill carrying these meat inspection 
provisions became a law prior to, or subsequent to the food and drugs act. Only 
a search of official documents could determine this fact. Nevertheless, it is a 
matter of some importance, for if the appropriation of the Department of 
Agriculture was approved subsequent to the approval of the food and drugs act, 
any disagreements between the two acts would be construed by the courts in favor 
of the later bill. In point of fact, no effort whatever was made by the Bureau 
of Chemistry to enforce any provisions of the meat inspection law. The reason 
for mentioning these matters here is because President Roosevelt's intense 
interest in the meat inspection bill seemed to obscure, at least for the time 
being, any interest he had in the food and drugs act.
   I had the good fortune to know somewhat intimately two or three of the 
newspaper men who had the ear of the President and I learned from them that the 
President's interest in the food and drugs act was genuine and unreserved. 
Particularly I knew well Harry Needham, intimate associate of the President. Mr. 
Needham subsequently met an untimely death in an accident in an aeroplane in 
Paris. As was recited in the chapter on "What is Whisky," I learned from Mr. 
William Loeb, the President's private secretary, his great interest in that 
matter. This was subsequent to the passage of the food and drugs act.
   I had close relations also to two other men who had more or less free access 
to President Roosevelt. These were Mr. Mark Sullivan and Mr. Robert M. Allen. I 
have secured interesting data from each of these gentlemen in regard to 
President Roosevelt's interest in the passage of the pure food bill. Mr. Allen 
has furnished me with the following data, which I have permission to quote. he 
     "I do not believe that President Roosevelt had shown any interest in the 
  pure food law prior to 1905. 1 feel without any doubt that Roosevelt sincerely 
  and earnestly supported the passage of the act after his message to Congress 
  in December, 1905. When he took this stand it was characteristic of him to 
  back it. Hapgood, Sullivan, Needham, and Gilson Gardner were close to the 
  President, as was also Dr. Abbott, editor of The Outlook.
     "The White House had a strong influence on their activities for the bill. 
  Needham told the Dalzell story at the time it happened. If it is true, and I 
  believe it was true, Roosevelt's statement to Cannon that he would call 
  Congress into extra session if they did not pass the food bill, was one of the 
  decisive factors in bringing the bill to a vote in the House. There are so 
  many people, like the writers that I have mentioned, so earnest in their 
  feeling that Roosevelt strongly supported the passage of the Act from the fall 
  of 1905, that I do not want you to make any mistake in this matter in your 
  memoirs. You have a big and important message to get over. The country needs 
   I have the following statement from Mr. Mark Sullivan, also :
     "I cannot say that I have any positive recollection of ever having 
  discussed the pure food bill specifically with President Roosevelt. I did 
  discuss it very often with Harry Needham and with R. M. Allen. I also did 
  discuss it occasionally with yourself, as you will remember. Based on my 
  recollections of conversations I had with Needham and Allen, my strong belief 
  is that Roosevelt not only believed in the Pure Food Bill but was energetic in 
  getting it passed. It is true that the pure food bill.and the railroad rate 
  bill were before Congress during the same session. I think it possible, or 
  even likely, that Roosevelt's major interest was in the railroad rate bill, 
  because at the time that was the great controversy; but I have recently been 
  over the records sufficiently to show that Roosevelt gave powerful aid to the 
  pure food bill." 
   Mr, Sullivan then discusses another overlapping and supplemental measure, the 
meat inspection bill.
   To continue the quotation:
     "That Roosevelt threw immense energy into the meat inspection rider there 
  can be no doubt whatever. In effect the one went with the other. Roosevelt's 
  pressure for the meat inspection bill is proved by scores of documents and 
  publications in old newspaper files. The two bills, the pure food bill and the 
  meat inspection rider, went through the lower house substantially on identical 
  dates. Everybody thought of the two as one." 
   To this I wish to add my own recollection and impression at the time. I was 
fully convinced that although Mr. Roosevelt came into action late in the fray he 
was enthusiastic and earnest in his support of the pure food and drugs act. It 
was not until nearly five years later that I had any intimation whatever that I 
was wrong in this opinion. I did feel that I was under a serious handicap at the 
White House by reason of my opposition to Cuban reciprocity.

Leader in the House of Representatives for the enforcement of the Food Law

   Two important statements were made to me in 1912, after my resignation from 
the Bureau of Chemistry. Mr. James R. Mann, leader of the final fight in the 
House for the food bill, thought the President not only was indifferent about 
the matter, but considered the measure the work of impractical cranks. Mr. 
Roosevelt made a similar statement in a letter published in a Kansas paper at 
that time. Senator Heyburn, who led the final fight in the Senat% showed me a 
letter written to him by Mr. Roosevelt while the bill was under discussion, 
begging him to cease his efforts for such an impractical measure, and aid him in 
passing a bill to restore to the Naval Academy three students who had been 
dismissed for drunkenness. Even if it be granted that the President favored the 
food bill, it is perfectly clear that he took the most active part in pre 
venting the Bureau of Chemistry from enforcing it.
   The prejudice which the President had against the Chief of the Bureau of 
Chemistry was most pronounced. It arose early in his administration when he was 
urging Congress to pass the law remitting part of the duties on imported sugar 
coming into this country from Cuba. I have no desire to criticize the President 
for his attitude in this matter. At that time the planter and manufacturer of 
sugar in Cuba scarcely got a cent a pound on his product. All the nations of 
Europe producing beet sugar were paying large bounties on beet sugar when it was 
exported. The result was that practically all the sugar consumed by Great 
Britain, which was one of the great sugar consuming countries of the world was 
cheapened by bounties paid by France, Germany, Belgium, Russia and Austria on 
exported beet sugar. Sugar was so cheap in London that the makers of cane sugar 
in the West Indies had lost the greater part of their trade. At the time (1902) 
the United States was considering the subject of a rebate of import duties on 
sugar to Cuban planters a congress called by beet-sugar producing countries in 
Europe was sitting in Brussels considering the question of abolishing export 
duties on beet sugar. Sereno E. Payne of New York was chairman of the House 
Committee on Ways and Means before which the question of rebate on Cuban sugar 
was under consideration. I was very much embarrassed on receiving a summons to 
appear before that committee. I had no sympathy with the proposed legislation. I 
had devoted many years of study to the domestic sugar problem, in investigating 
the possibilities of extending our domestic production from sorghum, sugar beets 
and sugar cane. I was naturally a high protectionist on sugars imported from 
abroad. I went to the Secretary of Agriculture and explained to him that I was 
opposed to this legislation but that I did not want to appear in opposition to 
the President's plan. I asked him to communicate with Chairman Payne and have 
him withdraw the summons. The Secretary said:
     I am just as much opposed to this legislation as you are but being a member 
  of the President's cabinet I can not say anything; I think the committee ought 
  to know the truth about this matter. (Quoted from memory.) 
   I replied that I also thought they ought to know the truth, but that I didn't 
see any difference between his telling them the truth and 1, who was only one of 
his assistants. The result was, however, that I had to appear before the 
committee. I was two days in giving them the data which to my mind clearly 
disclosed that the trouble in Cuba was not due to our import tax, but to the 
giving of bounties in Europe on exported beet sugar. I quote from the hearings 
of the Ways and Means Committee.
     "It follows as a logical conclusion, therefore, that the people who come to 
  this committee for relief from the low price of sugar should strike at the 
  true cause, not the false one, of the evil of which they complain. * * * Their 
  cause should be pleaded in the Parliaments of Europe, not in that of America; 
  their plaints should go before the Reichstadt, Bundesrath, and the Corps 
  Legslatif, and not before the American Congress. The place to plead their 
  cause is before the Congress of Brussels, not before the Ways and Means 
  Committee of the Congress of the United States. " 

   (Hearings Before Committee on Ways and Means, Fifty-Seventh Congress, First 
Session, Wed., January 29, 1902, Page 572)
   MR. RICHARDSON: You have read the report of the Secretary of War?
   DR. WILEY: Yes, Sir.
   MR. RICHARDSON: And the recommendation of the President?
   DR. WILEY: Yes, Sir.
   MR. RICHARDSON: And General Wood?
   DR. WILEY: I have not read that, but I have heard of it. I have read the 
other two, however.
   MR. RICHARDSON: You do not agree with them in the recommendations in respect 
to the treatment of Cuba on this question?
   DR. WILEY: I do not.
   MR. RICHARDSON: I ask you this, doctor, for this reason: Do you contemplate 
remaining in the Agricultural Department? Is that your ideal (Laughter.)
   You need not answer if you do not wish. I ask simply because I have heard 
that you did not.
   THE CHAIRMAN: You need not answer that question, doctor.
   MR. RICHARDSON: Not unless he wishes to.
   MR. HOPKINS: I do not think that is proper.
   MR. RICHARDSON: I do not want him to answer it unless he is willing to do so.
   MR. ROBERTSON: That has not anything to do with the case.
   MR. RICHARDSON: The object of my question is just this, Mr. Chairman, as I am 
frank to state, and he need not answer it if he does not wish to do so: I have 
understood that the doctor contemplated leaving the Agricultural Department and 
going into the sugar-beet industry. Whether that is true or not I do not know.
   DR. WILEY: It is the very first I have heard of it. (Laughter.) Mr. Chairman, 
it is the first intimation of the kind I have ever had. I thought the gentleman 
implied that I would be removed because I did not agree with the Secretary or 
the President. (Laughter.)
   As I left the committee room, a famous artist, Mr, Augustus C. Heaton, who 
had been in attendance, handed me the following rhyme:
  "A chemist both learned and witty
  Came before a sugar committee, 
  And O such statistics and learned linguistics 
  He poured upon Recipro-city." 
   As it turned out it was no laughing matter.
   The result of my testimony was what I had anticipated. President Roosevelt 
was furiously angry. He sent at once for Secretary Wilson and ordered him to 
dismiss immediately that man Wiley. The Secretary pleaded for my life, 
explaining that I did not go up there willingly, but had earnestly tried to have 
my subpoena recalled. The President relented and said to let it go this time, 
but to tell Wiley never to do Such a thing again. The result was that I never 
was a favorite at the White House as long as Roosevelt was president. I was not 
surprised, therefore, to find that he took the lead in so limiting the 
activities of the Bureau of Chemistry as to deprive the Chief of that Bureau 
from performing the functions placed upon him under the law.


Dr. Andrew Saul

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