September 25, 2018

Women’s History Month: FDA Spotlights Food Safety Pioneer Ruth Lamb

Ruth deForest Lamb was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) first Chief Educational Officer and author of the book American Chamber of Horrors, which was a call to action for food safety reform. A graduate of Vassar College’s class of 1918, she  worked in advertising as a copyrighter before she joining the agency. Her accomplishments as a food safety pioneer are being spotlighted by the FDA during Women’s History Month.

ruth-lambIn 1935, Arthur Kallet and Frederick Schlink, founders of Consumer’s Research and Consumer’s Union, published in a book that heavily criticized the FDA for failing to protect consumers from misbranded and dangerous food, frug and cosmetic products. The book was called 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics.

The FDA responded by assembling an exhibit of products which the agency itself opposed because of their ingredients or misleading claims which caught the eye of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the attention of media. One reporter described the exhibit as an “American Chamber of Horrors.”

Lamb borrowed that phrase for the title of her book in which she countered 100,000,000 guinea pigs showing that agency’s failure to act to remove some of these products from the market was not due to incompetence or indifference, but rather federal law. Food safety law hadn’t been updated since the passage of the “Wiley Act” three decades earlier. When the act was passed, the cosmetics and medical devices industries ere nonexistent and radios hadn’t made their way into most American homes.

Lamb hoped the book would spur action for an updated food, drug and cosmetics safety law. And it did with the passage of 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

 

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