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What is the FDA?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a regulatory agency in the United States which is responsible for ensuring the safety of an array of consumer products. It is estimated by the agency that for every dollar Americans spend, 25 cents of that dollar goes to products regulated and managed by the FDA. This organization has a huge scope, and it plays a critical role in a number of industries, from pharmaceuticals to the practice of veterinary medicine.

This agency is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. It was established in 1906 under the Federal Food and Drugs Act, an act of Congress passed to address growing consumer concern about the safety of foods and drugs in America. With the publication of the The Jungle and numerous other texts which revealed the seedy underside of the products Americans ate, drank, and used on their bodies, consumers were in an uproar in the early 1900s, and the FDA was the government's attempt to reassure consumers. In the process of establishing the FDA, the United States government created the first agency dedicated to consumer protections.

In the early years of the FDA, a number of flaws within the organization were revealed, as often happens when new government agencies are established. The FDA was overhauled in 1938 with the Pure Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, and additional refinements to the agency were made throughout the 20th century as new public health threats and issues emerged.

There are a number of different departments in the agency which handle issues like drug development, food safety, cosmetics, blood products, medical devices, vaccines, veterinary medicine, and radiation-emitting products. In addition to reviewing new products before they are released onto the market to determine their safety, the FDA also periodically examines existing products, and the agency evaluates labeling, advertising, and other claims made about the products which it regulates. In all cases, the goal is to ensure that consumers have access to safe products and accurate information about them.

Thousands of people work for the FDA, ranging from research chemists to field inspectors. The agency has the power to recall products it thinks are dangerous, and to issue additional warnings as new evidence emerges about existing products. Any time someone takes an aspirin, brings an animal to the vet for a vaccine, or applies lipstick in the United States, among many other things, he or she is taking advantage of products and services regulated by the FDA.

Some proposals have been made to reform the organization of the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA handles inspections of meat and poultry, which can lead to some conflict between the two agencies. At a company which makes frozen pizzas, for example, the FDA inspects the cheese pizzas, but the USDA inspects the meat versions, and this can result in mistakes and missed identifications of health hazards.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon328007 — On Apr 01, 2013

I agree. I do not trust the FDA at all. Look at the drugs they give approval to that end up ruining folks' lives, or being recalled or discontinued because they are horrible. Yet they think they can fight the drug war on the messed up backs of legitimate pain patients. We have genetically changed crops that are doing things they don't even know about yet. This orgnization needs to go away!

By anon291735 — On Sep 16, 2012

I didn't know they allowed maggots in mushrooms. That's kind of gross.

By anon161950 — On Mar 21, 2011

I don't trust the FDA any farther than I can throw them.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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