Please note that papers will not be pre-circulated.
Delphine Berdah, Etudes sur les Sciences et les Techniques, Group d’Histoire et de Diffusion des Sciences d’Orsay
“Bacterial resistances to antibiotics in farm animals, a “false problem” for humans? Experts debates and desinhibitions in France, on the second half of the 20th century”
After the Second World War, France saw agricultural production intensified as a result of its political will to transform farming on the model of factory. Historical accounts of the introduction of antibiotics in farming insist on the fact that these new drugs were essential to this turn to intensive farming by curing animal diseases, preventing massive contamination due to animal concentration and enhancing animal growth when added to animal feeding stuff, despite raising problems such as antibiotic residues in milk and meat, or the emergence of microbial resistances. Studying how these rising concerns were handled and dealt with by various experts – physicians, pharmacists, toxicologists, veterinarians, chemists, nutritionists – in France, on the second half of the 20th century, this paper shows that beyond political, industrial as well as scientific desinhibitions regarding drug hazards in food, the use and regulations of antibiotics in farming were closely linked with the medical production and uses of these drugs.
Soraya de Chadarevian, Department of History & Institute for Society and Genetics, UCLA
“Radioactive Diet: Food, Metabolism and the Environment, c. 1960”
In the early 1960s, three radiobiologists working at the Radiobiological Research Unit in Harwell, UK went on a month-long diet consisting of bread and milk enriched with radioactive strontium. The experiment for which the scientists hoped to recruit further volunteers was reported widely in scientific and medical journals as well as in the daily press. In the paper I will analyze the context of this and other experiments aimed at allaying rising concerns about the ill effects of radioactively contaminated foodstuff and the broader impact of the strontium-90 debate on the science and politics of food, metabolism and the environment.
Aurélien Féron, EHESS – CERMES3, Paris, France
“PCBs in food: knowledge, mobilizations and public action in France (1975-2015)”
Massively produced on a global scale and widely used in a large range of techno-industrial applications for more than 50 years (1930 – 1980’s), PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls – a family of 209 congener) – became known by the end of the 1960’s both as a major environmental pollutant and as a contaminant with harmful effects on ecosystems and human health.
By the end of the 1960’s, scientific studies begun to point out the ubiquity of PCBs (these compounds can be found in all the ecosystems studied, anywhere on earth), and the sanitary effects for general population. The scientific community especially underlined that PCBs were raising a specific problem, because of their remanence both in the environment and in living organisms. Their high chemical and physical stability – that had made them particularly interesting for industrial applications –, combined to their low biodegradability, makes PCBs very persistent, wherever they are. In addition to that, their lipophilicity turns them into an even more worrying issue concerning animal and human health. The fact that PCBs accumulate in fat, combined with their persistence, makes them “bio-magnifiable”: the higher a living organism is in the trophic chain, the more PCBs its body contains. Studies on the presence of PCBs in food have been launched at the end of the 1960’s and have already raised particular concern about their presence in food, and especially milk and fish.
The history of the government of the PCB problem shows an important evolution of the means that have been implemented to try, on the one hand, to lower the general contamination level and, on the other hand, to estimate and prevent ecologic, veterinary and sanitary risks.
Highlight in the environmental health field, first reactions of national and international political institutions appeared almost as soon as scientists brought the first data on extent, behavior and effects of the pollution. Use and production of PCBs have indeed been gradually banned since the beginning of the 1970’s, until total prohibition of the sale of products containing PCBs at the end of the 1980’s, in most industrial countries. But, despite this relatively precocious development of a regulatory framework and despite this global ban, PCB pollution and its effects have remained a technical and political problem for 40 years. The scientific community never stopped working on PCBs, and these compounds have frequently been the object of social mobilizations and public action. These have regularly given rise to new reactions by local or national authorities – or redefinition of the preexistent.
From the 1970’s to the 2010’s, a lot of environmental and sanitary regulatory thresholds, but also international health risks evaluation reference values have been defined and then revised. Considering health risks related to human diet, for instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) concerning both dioxins and certain type of PCBs (called “PCB dioxin-like”) in 1998, and another one concerning all congeners of PCBs in 2003. They also climbed up the WHO classification scale for carcinogenic substances: after having stated in 1978 that PCBs “should be considered as if they were carcinogenic to humans”, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized them as “Possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B) when the classification has been defined in 1979, before including them in Group 2A (“Probably carcinogenic to humans”) in 1987, and finally in Group 1 (“Carcinogenic to humans”) in 2014. In those same decades, PCBs were also one of the substances on the basis of which the categories of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) and Endocrine Disruptors have been built.
In France, many of the resurgences of the PCB problem in the administrative and public arenas were related to food issues. Relying on the analysis of archives and interviews collected from actors who (have) address(ed) the PCB-pollution problem (fishermen, decontamination facilities and their neighbors, scientists, environmentalist non-profits, state authorities…), I will focus on some of these resurgences in France (fish contaminations in the Rhône river, 1985-1990 ; fish contaminations throughout the whole French territory, 2006-2015 ; milk, eggs and livestock contaminations in a little town, Grez-en-Bouère, 2010-2015). I will analyze the dynamics that have fueled each other, regularly leading to social mobilizations, new scientific studies, (re)definition of public action plans; making public advocacies for knowledge production, health and environmental protection, and need for ”transparency” of the public action; bringing more data on local contamination levels and exposures estimates; yielding to prohibitions of the selling of certain foodstuffs and consumption recommendations from health authorities.
Xaq Frohlich, Institute for Historical Studies, UT Austin
“‘Economic Adulteration’ or Even Better Than the Real Thing?: Labeling Novel Foods ‘Imitation’ in 1950s and 1960s America”
While most studies of risk in the industrial food supply have focused on contamination, a paralleland central policy concern of governmental agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been the cheapening of food and cheating of consumers through what is called “economic adulteration,” the substitution of cheaper ingredients without their proper labeling. This paper describes debates in the 1950s and 1960s around the FDA’s use of the “imitation” label as policy tool to police economic adulteration, and looks at examples from several categories of new foods—artificial sweeteners, “low fat” spreads, and vitamin-enriched staples—to explore the policy clashes surrounding consumer protection and new diet foods in this period. From the FDA’s 1950s campaign against “nutrition quackery,” its Delaney clause concerns with the popularization
of artificially sweetened snacks and sodas, to its classification of low-fat alternatives as “imitation” rather than diet, we see a regulatory culture at the FDA which struggled to reconcile its historical mission to protect consumers by protecting “authentic” foods with a new post-nutrition transition paradigm in nutrition and marketing that centered on preventive risk and “negative nutrition.” By looking at the debates surrounding labeling during this period, this paper documents a significant policy shift at the FDA from envisioning food as traditional, fixed recipes to food as interchangeable parts, and from health as a natural, normal state to health as something that needs to be personally tailored to and constantly maintained. This shift would give rise to new conceptions of risk and regulation—“substantial equivalence” and informative labeling, among others—that would carry the day from the 1970s forward.
Anne Hardy, Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
“Unravelling Epidemics: Salad, Science and Medicine, 1870–2000”
Bagged salads have recently had a bad health press in Britain, but concerns around the ability of salad vegetables and fruit to transmit pathogenic bacteria are much older. Modern understandings food poisoning largely focus on meat and poultry products, but recent evidence suggests that garden produce is at least as likely to cause significant outbreaks on a domestic, local, and international scale. This paper traces the emergence of health concerns around garden produce, from Victorian fears over watercress consumption, through the changing food consumption patterns of the twentieth century, to the new scientific techniques and mechanisms which now permit the minute tracing of outbreak origin, and the elucidation of complex, and often international, landscapes of foodborne infection.
Nathalie Jas, INRA, Paris
“New tools for new problems. Shaping specifications for food additives and contaminants in the FAO/WHO and the EEC in the 1960s and 1970s”
In the late 1940s the old issue of the regulation of substances intentionally or unintentionally added to foods came back on the agenda in a context of explosion of the numbers of such substances. For the first time the subject permanently became an issue at international level. During the 1950s, 60s and 70s an international scientific expertise was developed which contributed to the shaping of a series of long lasting science-based regulatory tools, such as the ‘positive lists’, the ‘acceptable daily intake’ or the ‘tolerance’ (Maximum Residues Limits). This paper looks at the development of another lesser known but important tool: the ‘specifications for the identity and purity of food additives and their toxicological evaluation’. It focuses on two important places for this development: the Joint FAO/WHO committee on Food additives (linked to the Codex Alimentarius) and the EEC Commission. It argues that food industries and their representatives played a hidden, pervasive but significant role in the shaping of these specifications in multiple ways, as the regulations were necessary to ensure the smooth international/global circulation of their goods but could also impede their business if they happened to be too stringent, technically difficult or costly to fit into their production systems. The paper shows that, as a result, despite an associated rhetoric of safety and consumers’ health protection, the ‘specifications’ tool –as with other tools- encapsulated many industry favorable biases which may have possibly led to forms of widespread but difficult to grasp food contaminations.
Claas Kirchhelle, University of Oxford
“Between bacteriology and toxicology agricultural antibiotics and the changing world of FDA risk regulation (1949-1985)”
Mass-introduced to US agriculture in 1949, antibiotics were an important factor facilitating the post-war intensification of food production. By the mid-1950s, antibiotics were routinely given to animals to boost weight gain and keep disease in check, were sprayed on plants to combat phytopathogens, and were used as preservatives of fish and meat. However, agricultural antibiotic use was not without significant side effects. Concerned scientists and consumers accused antibiotics of leaving behind hazardous residues, enabling substandard animal welfare conditions, and selecting for bacterial resistance.
For officials of the US Food and Drugs Administration, this criticism posed several challenges. Traditionally, American drug regulation had been geared to regulate substances at the point of licensing. However, once licensed for general use, it was nearly impossible to control antibiotic consumption by end users like farmers and veterinarians. Meanwhile, older FDA officials were strongly influenced by a regulatory paradigm based on toxicological risk assessment and possessed little microbiological expertise. As a consequence, adapting antibiotic regulation to contain both the threats of residues in food and bacterial resistance proved challenging especially after new findings on interspecies resistance transfer emerged during the-1960s.
My paper will focus on the period between agricultural antibiotics’ mass-licensing after 1949 and the failure of resistance-focussed FDA reform in 1985. It will study how US officials attempted to reconcile new risk scenarios involving bacterial resistance proliferation with classic regulatory models centring on the containment of toxic substances. The paper will analyse both the power struggles between the FDA and its Congressional overseers and between different factions within the FDA. Lastly, it will also focus on the technologies employed to establish and monitor antibiotic thresholds in food and trace the spread of bacterial resistance.
Hannah Landecker, Department of Sociology & Institute for Society and Genetics, UCLA
“The Food of our Food: Medicated Feed and the Industrialization of Metabolism”
This paper recounts the history of medicated feed for agricultural animals in the twentieth century United States. While there has been some appreciation of the addition of antibiotics and hormones to feed as growth promoters, given worries about these as adulterations of the end-product that is milk and meat for human consumption, the scale and extent of the systematic remaking of animal feed since the turn of the twentieth century has gone underappreciated. This paper traces the science of the “animal as converter,” with metabolism and feed efficiency as work objects in the effort to make more with less. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fungal enzymes, short chain fatty acids, arsenical medicines, anti-oxidants, antibiotics, hormones, palatants, and many other substances are part of this story, many of which were also then used in human food fortification and engineering. Some of these substances were perceived and regulated as possibly dangerous to human health because of residues left in meat or milk, but usually one at a time and only in terms of direct effects on human eaters. Indeed, one result of the focus on feed efficiency in the science-industrial effort to promote growth, what we know about many of these elements is confined to how they affect growth, a positive knowledge that has obscured the many other questions one might ask about how medicated feeds have affected animals, microbiota, environments, and humans. In this history one can see how the metabolic inter-conversions of different bodies were rearticulated in the name of feed efficiency, establishing new flows of matter and energy through microbes, animals, plants and humans. This paper argues that a more systematic history of agricultural feeding points not toward the industrialization of discrete foodstuffs or activities (cows, farming), but toward the industrialization of metabolism, which reframes the historical and contemporary questions one might ask about risks, exposures, and unintended consequences.
Victoria Lee, Department of History, Ohio University
“Wild Toxicity, Cultivated Safety: Aflatoxin and Kōji Classification”
In 1960, over 100,000 poultry in England died from an unknown disease named Turkey X. Investigators linked the disease to peanut meal in the turkeys’ industrial feed, and identified the cause as a toxin produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus. Following the Turkey X outbreak, “aflatoxin” emerged as a powerful carcinogen, which especially damaged the liver and clearly affected numerous animal species including trout and rats. New anxieties highlighted aflatoxin—produced as the mold grew on nuts and grains during storage—as a serious potential hazard to humans, including people who either consumed affected animals or used veterinary drugs, or ingested aflatoxin directly in their own food, perhaps in the course of eating a diet indigenous to particular regions. As part of the research after 1960 to understand the risks posed by aflatoxin, mycologists focused on distinguishing molds within the Aspergillus flavus taxonomic group that were toxigenic from those that were not, a difficult task because the A. flavus group included a large number of microbial isolates. Among them were the varieties known as kōji, which were widely used in the Japanese brewing industries to make sake, soy sauce, and miso. Consequently, Japanese scientists attempted to establish kōji varieties as a distinct group from A. flavus, constructing an evolutionary narrative in which human cultivation had created a non-toxigenic, domesticated species different than its toxigenic wild relative. By tracing their work, this paper explores the ways in which classificatory practices and the perception of risk in food defined and shaped each other.
Heather Paxson, Anthropology, MIT
“Food Risk at the Border: Adulteration or Customary Practice”
Growing interest in artisan foods (such as cheese) is helping to create a post-industrial food landscape in which many food safety standards, presuming and promoting industrial methods and equipment, are becoming outmoded. This paper looks at recent regulatory actions taken by FDA agents at US ports of entry: e.g., holding shipments of imported raw-milk cheeses for sampling and bacteriological testing as part of a “fact-finding” study; issuing import refusals on the basis of (re)classifying a common cheese ingredient as a carcinogen. In each case, where regulators see in certain foods danger of adulteration (via unapproved introductions or opportunistic contamination), artisan producers and importers see threat to (legitimate) customary practices of foodmaking and commerce. What can we learn with and about food safety and risk by tracking the regulated, potentially impeded movement of foods across international borders?
Matthew Smith, University of Strathclyde
“Canaries in a Coal Mine? Food Allergy as a Disease of Civilisation”
Soon after Clemens von Pirquet coined the term allergy in 1906 to refer to ‘any form of altered biological reactivity’, clinicians and laboratory scientists began investigating allergic reactions to food. The applicability of von Pirquet’s term and growing medical interest in immunology prompted many physicians to suspect food allergy in cases of otherwise unexplained medical conditions By the 1930s, many allergists were convinced that most Americans were food allergy sufferers.
Although such claims always garnered controversy, most allergists prior to the Second World War accepted that food allergy was a clinically significant phenomenon. Moreover, many food allergists, were leaders within the field, instrumental in shaping allergy as a distinct medical profession. By the 1960s, however, the situation had changed fundamentally; food allergy was seen as form of faddism. What was this the case?
I argue that while scientific developments, including the discovery of immunoglobulin E (IgE) in 1966, help to explain the discrediting of food allergy, it is also important to acknowledge how politics also shaped its fortunes. As concerns about the environment and the stress of modern life began to influence popular and medical thought, many food allergists began to see food allergy as a disease of civilisation, a pathological consequence of an increasingly chemicalized world. As such, processed, additive-laden food was often singled out as particularly allergenic. Food allergy sufferers were not merely the unfortunate victims of bizarre, idiosyncratic reactions, they were instead hyper-sensitive to substances that were potentially harmful to everyone. To conservative groups, like the American Academy of Allergy, such theorising undermined the legitimacy of allergy, and as a result food allergists and their patients were increasingly marginalised.
Heiko Stoff, Medizinische Hochschule Hannover
“Chemopolitics of Cancer-Causing Substances in the 1950s”
In 1948 Pharmacologist Hermann Druckrey and electro-physicist Karl Küpfmüller developed a new theory on the relationship between dose and effect based on animal tests with an azo dye named ‚butter yellow‘. Druckrey concluded that the cancer-causing effect of butter yellow was irreversible: The ongoing consumption of even the smallest dosage of a carcinogenic substance like butter yellow could be lethal for consumers. According to Druckrey and Küpfmüller cancer development was a chronological pharmacological process following mathematical regularities. Druckrey drew the then significant conclusion that scientists should both seek out such cancer-causing substances in the environment and encourage elimination as far as possible of those with which humans were in daily contact, even if they only occur in trace amount.
One year later, in 1949, Germany’s leading biochemist Adolf Butenandt created a public scare by proclaiming that despite its proven cancer-causing effects butter yellow was still in use. His rather technical lecture, annotated with the demand for legislation that would ban synthetic dyes from food, created a stir, if not a panic, among ordinary Germans. Butter yellow was not only a pars pro toto for the supposed evils of modern civilization, but also a catalyst for addressing new risk policies and fostering measures to control food additives on a West German and pan-European scale. Butenandt, in his lecture, referred to the well-respected physician Karl-Heinrich Bauer who, in emphasizing the significance of exogenous agents, based a new cancer theory on that of azo dyes, thereby relating the assumed rise in cancer to modern lifestyles and civilization in general (a discourse which already had been established in the 1920s). According to Bauer, human cancer was mostly caused by industrially produced chemicals, so called cancer noxa (“Krebsnoxen”). Bauer introduced a new oncological theory, emphasizing the significance of exogenous chemical and physical factors. Modernity, civilization, industrialization and capitalism together seemed to be poisoning the German people through chemo-technical agents. Butter yellow brought together a life reform discourse about diseases of civilization with the production of scientific facts. The chemopolitical discourse turned life reform into a science and nutrition research into an endeavor.
Bauer, Druckrey and Butenandt were allies in the ongoing „war against cancer“ and played a crucial role in a commission to investigate the problems of carcinogenic colorants and give policy advice established by the short lived German Research Council (later: German Research Foundation). When in 1958 a much stricter food law was passed in West Germany, this was actually based both on Druckrey’s dose-time-effect-law and the debate on butter yellow as a poison of the German people. The Druckrey-Küpfmüller-equation and the policies of the commision on food colorants were also of main influence for the establishment of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the Delaney Clause in the USA (Delaney referred directly to the Druckrey-Küpfmüller-equation). But even if Druckrey and his allies lobbied for risk avoidance, they did not succeed in establishing rigid policies for food additives. Strict measures were successively displaced by specific regulations based on the much more flexible and industry-friendly concept of an acceptable daily intake (ADI) during the 1960s: A calculable risk. The essential tension between the axiom that modern civilization produces cancer-causing substances and the pragmatic drawing up of a white list characterized the debate on food additives in the second half of the twentieth century.
Sarah Vogel and Maricel Maffini, Environmental Defense Fund
“We are what we eat: the US regulatory system for chemicals in food”
The Food Additive Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1958 intended to protect the public from harmful chemicals in food by requiring an affirmation of safety by the US Food and Drug Administration and testing of chemicals before they are used in foods. Chemicals that fall under this statute include those chemicals purposely added to food or that become part of the food by leaching or migration from manufacturing and packaging. Today, however, it has become increasingly clear that the law has not secured the safety of the food supply. There is far less information available today on the safety of chemicals in food than in 1958. And over that same time period, the estimated number of additives allowed in food has increased more than 1000%.
An exemption in the law, intended for common food ingredients such as oil, vinegar and salt, considered to be “generally recognized as safe”, has become a significant loophole used by industry to bring hundreds of chemicals onto the market with no notification or review by the FDA. Exploitation of this loophole means that there are at least 1,000 chemicals used in food for which the agency has no information on the use—what products and in what amounts—safety or even the chemical identify.
Today, consumers bear the burden of deciding what’s safe to eat and with limited information to do so. This paper describes how chemicals have been regulated for safety in the food supply, and how advancing scientific understanding of the health risks of some chemicals widely found in food are raising the stakes for improving the management system for chemicals in food. We outline critical components needed to develop a regulatory system that will better safeguard the public from harmful chemicals in the food.