There are several sacred cows when it comes to government regulatory bodies and one of those fat grass eating bastards is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Whenever you mention a desire to eliminate various government regulatory bodies people get very upset when you bring up one of the sacred cows because they feel that agency is absolutely necessary for the wellbeing of the nation. In the case of the FDA supporters will often cite a novel by Upton Sinclair called The Jungle as definitive proof that we need the FDA in order to have safe food to eat. The Jungle is a novel about the supposedly inhuman conditions found in the Chicago slaughterhouses of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Unfortunately for those who cite the work it was a completely fictitious, sensationalized, and outrageous piece of literature:
The Jungle was, first and foremost, a novel. It was intended to be a polemic—a diatribe, if you will—and not a well-researched and dispassionate documentary. Sinclair relied heavily on both his own imagination and on the hearsay of others. He did not even pretend to have actually witnessed the horrendous conditions he ascribed to Chicago packinghouses, nor to have verified them, nor to have derived them from any official records.
When you argument contains no verifiable evidence you’re not off to a good start. The biggest flaw with using The Jungle as a citation for the support of government food regulation is the fact nothing state in the book is verifiable. In fact evidence to the contrary exists:
Though his novelized and sensational accusations prompted later congressional investigations of the industry, the investigators themselves expressed skepticism of Sinclair’s integrity and credibility as a source of information.
Most Americans would be surprised to know that government meat inspection did not begin in 1906. The inspectors Holbrook refers to as being mentioned in Sinclair’s book were among hundreds employed by federal, state, and local governments for more than a decade. Indeed, Congressman E. D. Crumpacker of Indiana noted in testimony before the House Agriculture Committee in June 1906 that not even one of those officials “ever registered any complaint or (gave) any public information with respect to the manner of the slaughtering or preparation of meat or food products.”5
To Crumpacker and other contemporary skeptics, “Either the Government officials in Chicago (were) woefully derelict in their duty, or the situation over there (had been) outrageously over-stated to the country.”6 If the packing plants were as bad as alleged in The Jungle, surely the government inspectors who never said so must be judged as guilty of neglect as the packers were of abuse.
Some two million visitors came to tour the stockyards and packinghouses of Chicago every year. Thousands of people worked in both. Why is it that it took a novel written by an anti-capitalist ideologue who spent but a few weeks there to unveil the real conditions to the American public?
The entire novel was hyperbole. If conditions in the Chicago packing plats was even remotely as bad as The Jungle described there would have been outrage by visitors and at least one complaint filed by the hundreds of government meat inspectors already overseeing the situation. You can’t cover up such barbarism when millions of visitors come to the scene of the crimes. Likewise the legislation passed in the wake of The Jungle wasn’t passed due to the novel but so everybody citing the novel would shut the hell up:
When the sensational accusations of The Jungle became worldwide news, foreign purchases of American meat were cut in half and the meatpackers looked for new regulations to give their markets a calming sense of security. The only congressional hearings on what ultimately became the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 were held by Congressman James Wadsworth’s Agriculture Committee between June 6 and 11. A careful reading of the deliberations of the Wadsworth committee and the subsequent floor debate leads inexorably to one conclusion: Knowing that a new law would allay public fears fanned by The Jungle, bring smaller competitors under regulation, and put a newly-laundered government stamp of approval on their products, the major meat packers strongly endorsed the proposed act and only quibbled over who should pay for it.
To his credit, Upton Sinclair actually opposed the law because he saw it for what it really was—a boon for the big meat packers.10 Far from a crusading and objective truth-seeker, Sinclair was a fool and a sucker who ended up being used by the very industry he hated.
At least the bastard didn’t get what he wanted (which happens to everybody who appeals to the government to enact some piece of legislation by the way). Still the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 was passed on fraudulent grounds which is the important thing to take away from this post. Anytime you hear somebody cite The Jungle as a reason for government regulation duly inform that idiot about the truth nature of that novel; it was purely fiction and therefore not a valid source for augmentative purposes.