As my last post suggested, I’ve taken an interest in the history of the FDA. One of the more interesting anecdotes I came across in my research is the Elixir Sulfanilamide tragedy, in which 105 people died after taking a drug whose solvent was toxic. At the time, the FDA enforced “truth-telling” in the food and medicine industries—that is, companies had to be honest about the ingredients of their products or they could be reprimanded by the agency. But the FDA did not have the authority to oversee food and drug safety. Following the widespread deaths linked to the Elixir, however, Congress passed the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, which turned the FDA into the consumer watchdog we know today. (It would be another quarter century, however, before the agency began to oversee drug efficacy.)
In any case, I wrote about this particular story for this month’s issue of The Scientist. Check it out!