What Was the Meat Inspection Act of 1906?

Instructor: Andrea Stephenson

Andrea has a Juris Doctor and has spoken at legal conferences on government transparency.

This lesson will explain the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906. It will discuss in detail what prompted its enactment, what regulations it implemented, and how it impacted the meat packing industry.


Meat is a vital staple to the diet of most of the citizens of the United States. Could you imagine if the sanitary conditions where meat is slaughtered and processed were not regulated? What if consumers did not know that the meat bought from the store could be from diseased livestock or could be infected by bacteria at the processing plant? This was the world our ancestors lived in prior to 1906, when the slaughter houses and packaging plants were not regulated by the government.

Enactment of FMIA

However, this all changed when a shocking book entitled The Jungle was published by Upton Sinclair. The book described unsanitary conditions of the meat packing industry in Chicago. As a result of public disgust and outcry, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned an investigation, which confirmed the book's details. Spurred by the results of the investigation and the public's demands, the government enacted the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) of 1906 to regulate the meat packing industry. Most meat inspection laws prior to the Meat Inspection Act were enacted to protect the United State's pork trade overseas and not to regulate sanitation of meat processed for consumption in the United States.

FMIA's Requirements

The Meat Inspection Act established strict sanitary requirements for the meat packing industry and gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the right to inspect and monitor slaughtering and processing operations. The sanitary inspection requirements entailed both pre-slaughter inspection of livestock and post-slaughter inspection of each carcass.

The person doing the inspection has the authority under the Meat Inspection Act to condemn any meat inspected that he found not to be fit for human consumption. Interestingly, at the time of its enactment, the Meat Inspection Act only applied to cattle, sheep, goats, horses and pigs. It did not apply to poultry because the demand for chicken was not high in 1906. However, the Meat Inspection Act was amended in 1957 to also cover poultry.

Picture of Meat Inspection

In addition to sanitation and inspection requirements, the Meat Inspection Act also impacted food labeling. In accordance with the Meat Inspection Act, all labels on food had to be accurate, although not all ingredients were required to be listed. Labels additionally had to be legible and conform to technical requirements, such as size and style.

Sample of Meat Label
meat labe

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