Someone on my friend’s list wrote:
“…before the FDA and other such organizations mandated and checked such things, butchers and bakers would throw in anything vaguely foodlike to stretch their budgets…”
Of course, this is the received wisdom. However, correlation is not causation. Cost benefit analysis of the FDA suggests that by delaying efficacious drugs, the FDA has cost many more lives than it has saved.
And even as we speak, the USDA is fighting to prevent private companies from testing all their beef for BSE (”mad cow disease”).
Over the same time that the FDA regulations were put into place, per capita wealth in the U.S. increased dramatically. As people become wealthier, they tend to become more demanding of their food sources. (Witness the growth of the organic foods movement, and the profitability of Wegman’s, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods). So any increases in food quality may well be due to grocers meeting the demands of wealthier customers, independent of any effects that the USDA/FDA may have had.
Ideally, in order to determine the effects of USDA/FDA regulation, we would randomly assign individuals to either a state that did have such regulations or one that did not, and then see if their mortality and morbidity rates were any different over a long period of time. (Matching for a variables like age, wealth, religion, and others, of course.)