[Harvey Washington Wiley, a do-gooder farm boy who trained as
chemist, worried that preservatives might be harming the public. The
trials shocking results led to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and
eventually to the creation of the FDA.] [https://portside.org/] 



 Cynthia Graber, Nicola Twilley and Deborah Blum 
 August 27, 2018

	* [https://portside.org/node/18060/printable/print]

 _ Harvey Washington Wiley, a do-gooder farm boy who trained as
chemist, worried that preservatives might be harming the public. The
trials' shocking results led to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and
eventually to the creation of the FDA. _ 

 , FDA/Public Domain 


More than a century ago, enterprising manufacturers added brand-new
chemical preservatives into food to keep it fresh as it traveled from
the farm into rapidly growing American cities. Milk no longer went
rancid! Meat no longer spoiled! But some scientists wondered: could
all these preservatives be doing more harm than good? It took a
crusading chemist named Harvey Washington Wiley to take this the fight
all the way to Washington, D.C., where he recruited a "poison squad"
to test their health effects—and, in the process, created the
nation's first law to protect against poisons in our food supply. But
did he succeed? Are the preservatives we eat today safe? Listen to
this episode to hear Wiley's story—and learn why some of the
chemicals he tested are still in our food today.


In the late 1800s, America was changing rapidly, and so were its food
systems. The country was industrializing, and as people moved into
cities in search of jobs, they no longer picked their own tomatoes or
churned their own butter from the milk of local cows. Food had to
travel farther to reach these city-dwellers, and, in an era before
artificial refrigeration, it spoiled quickly. But there was a
solution, and it came from scientists working in the exciting new
field of chemistry: preservatives that promised to keep food fresh for
days, even weeks. By the 1880s and 1890s, most Americans were
consuming preservatives such as formaldehyde, borax, and salicylic
acid for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Harvey Washington Wiley realized he could use his chemical expertise
to protect America's stomachs. All photos FDA/Public Domain.

Nobody knew how many of these additives people were eating, let alone
what this daily cocktail of chemicals might be doing to them. But
Harvey Washington Wiley, a do-gooder farm boy who trained as chemist,
worried that preservatives might be harming the public. As Deborah
Blum [http://deborahblum.com/] describes in her new book, _The
Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-minded Crusade for Food Safety at
the Turn of the Twentieth Century_
Wiley took a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he
launched a revolutionary experiment: the "hygienic table trials,"
quickly renamed the "Poison Squad Trials" by journalists. Wiley's
"poison squad" was made up of young, healthy male government workers,
who consumed capsules of borax, formaldehyde, and other preservatives
alongside their daily meals. The trials' shocking results led to the
1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and eventually to the creation of the U.S.
Food & Drug Administration (FDA), transforming what the nation eats in
the process.

The Poison Squad assembled. Wiley is the third from the left in the
back row.

In theory, Harvey Washington Wiley's success should ensure that all
preservatives added to our food today are safe. But, in reality, a
legislative update in 1958 created a loophole that means that, today,
we have no idea exactly how many additives are added to our food or
how safe they are. With Laura MacCleery
[https://cspinet.org/biography/laura-maccleery], policy director for
the Center for Science in the Public Interest [https://cspinet.org/],
we bring Wiley's legacy up to date. Why are some of the chemicals that
sickened his Poison Squad more than a hundred years ago still in our
food—and what can modern science tell us about their risks? How safe
is today's food, and what needs to change to make it safer? Listen in
for more!

Wiley set up a cafeteria in the basement of the USDA building to host
his "Hygienic Table Trials."

Episode Notes


Deborah Blum [http://deborahblum.com/]'s new book, _The Poison Squad:
One Chemist's Single-minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the
Twentieth Century
[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594205140/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=gastropod-20&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=1594205140&linkId=e32674164044af30a6d9284204848e4c], _tells
Harvey Washington Wiley's story in detail, from his childhood in
Indiana through to his contentious attempts to clean up America's

This sign hung over the cafeteria entrance.


If you want more information about what additives are in food, CSPI's
Chemical Cuisine
[https://cspinet.org/eating-healthy/chemical-cuisine] site ranks the
safety of food additives. CSPI is also fighting to legally close the
GRAS loophole [https://cspinet.org/protecting-our-health/food-safety],
among other food safety initiatives.


The German Food Additives Museum
[https://www.zusatzstoffmuseum.de/] is located next to the wholesale
market in Hamburg, Germany. It was opened in June 2008, and its
interactive exhibits explore why food preservatives are used, as well
as the loopholes in European law that mean that they can be used in
organic food and do not necessarily have to be listed on the label.
Nicky visited in December 2017, and curator Christian Niemeyer showed
her around—she recommends it if you're in the area.

Among the displays at the German Food Additives Museum is a cash
register: you scan a shopping basket full of products, and it prints a
receipt listing all the additives in the food you've purchased. Photos
courtesy of the German Food Additives Museum.

_Gastropod looks at food through the lens of science and history.
Co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley serve up a brand new
episode every two weeks._

_Each episode, we look at the hidden history and surprising science
behind a different food and/or farming-related topic, from aquaculture
to ancient feasts, from cutlery to chile peppers, and from microbes to
Malbec. We interview experts, visit labs, fields, and archaeological
digs, and generally have lots of fun while discovering new ways to
understand the world through food. We think these stories are
fascinating, and we hope you will too._

_You can follow us on Twitter @gastropodcast and like us on Facebook._

_Want to send us suggestions or ideas for future shows, or respond to
past ones? We’d love to hear from you._


The biologists and natural historians among you might be wondering why
we chose to name our podcast after a class of molluscs. The short
answer is that we didn’t. Friend, filmmaker, and legendary naming
guru Dan Polsby suggested the name during a hike, and we liked the way
it combined pod(casting) and gastro(nomy) in one snappy word. (You
should have heard some of our other ideas.) As it turns out, our snail
namesakes have eating habits after our own hearts: extremely diverse
in methodology and omnivorous in content. Most use a radula, which is
a “rasping tongue that basically resembles a miniature bucket-wheel
excavator,” though some “feed suctorially,” and “they include
grazers, browsers, suspension feeders, scavengers, detritivores, and
carnivores.” In short, gastropods rule!

_We should also thank Ed StClair, the previous owner of gastropod.com,
who generously donated it to be our online home. The wonderfully
talented Kathi Bahr designed our logo and branding, and the endlessly
patient Matt Glaser of Jump or Dive worked at the speed of light to
get our website up and running (during the two weeks leading up to his
wedding, no less). And the lovely illustration on our home page is the
work of the fantastic Nikki Hiatt._


Cynthia and Nicola met in 2013, as members of the inaugural group of
UC Berkeley-11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellows, overseen by
Michael Pollan and Malia Wollan. A year later, they decided to join
forces to bring you Gastropod. Here’s a bit more about them.

_CYNTHIA GRABER is an award-winning radio producer and print reporter
who’s covered science, technology, food, agriculture, and any other
stories that catch her fancy for more than 15 years. She’s reported
on ancient farming techniques in Peru’s Andean mountains, a
scientist uncovering the secrets of regenerating limbs, and a goat
with million-dollar blood. Her work has been featured in magazines and
radio shows including Fast Company, BBC Future, Slate, the Boston
Globe, Studio 360, PRI’s The World, Living on Earth, and many
others, and she’s a regular contributor to the podcast Scientific
American’s 60-Second Science. She was a 2012-2013 Knight Fellow at
MIT, and her radio and print awards include those from the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of
Environmental Journalists, and the international Institute of Physics.
And her favorite breakfast includes greens—particularly baby bok
choy—cooked with a bit of soy and fish sauce._

_NICOLA TWILLEY is author of the blog Edible Geography and a
contributing writer at the New Yorker. She is deeply obsessed with
refrigeration, and is currently writing a book on the topic. She
recently explored China’s coldscape for The New York Times Magazine,
and, in 2013, she curated an exhibition exploring North America’s
spaces of artificial refrigeration with the Center for Land Use
Interpretation. From 2011 to 2013, Twilley was a Research Fellow at
the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art, as part
of which she collaborated with Geoff Manaugh on Venue, a pop-up
interview studio and mobile media rig that traveled around North
America documenting abandoned NASA training sites, underground health
mines, the world’s largest collection of wild yeasts, and more. In
her spare time, she makes smog meringues._

	* [https://portside.org/node/18060/printable/print]







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