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Before The Jungle: The Atlantic origins of US food safety regulation

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Food-borne illness remains a major public health problem, with millions sickened annually even in Europe, the United States and other wealthy regions. In the United States, public health authorities contend with limited budgets, criticism from both the political right and left and challenges from both old and new pathogens. Despite their remarkable success in improving the safety of food since the nineteenth century, food regulators struggle with public scepticism and to keep food safe. This paper traces the origins of US food safety regulations to late nineteenth-century exchanges with European governments and consumers and uses the transatlantic oyster trade to illustrate a profound - but still contested - shift in responsibility for food safety between consumers, producers and governmental agencies.
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Keywords: Atlantic exchange; Food safety; disease fears; oyster trade; regulation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2018

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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