Examining the Public Interest Rationale for Regulating Whiskey with the Pure Food and Drugs Act
51 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2021 Last revised: 11 Feb 2023
Date Written: September 27, 2021
Was there legitimate public interest justification for regulating whiskey with the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906? High and Coppin (1988) provide evidence for a public choice interpretation of the application of the act to the whiskey industry. The existence of public choice factors, however, does not preclude the simultaneous existence of genuine public interest rationales. The public interest justification was that rectifiers, who flavored neutral spirits to replicate straight whiskey, were commonly adulterating whiskey with poisonous ingredients. We examine these claims using alcohol consumption data, chemical tests of whiskey, trade book recipes, and reported deaths and poisonings from whiskey. We fail to find evidence that whiskey commonly contained known poisonous ingredients. While there is evidence that some poisons were used in whiskey, these ingredients were either not fully understood to be dangerous at that time or were demanded in underground markets. The historical evidence bolsters the public choice interpretation of High and Coppin (1988).
Keywords: public choice, public interest, whiskey, Pure Food and Drugs Act
JEL Classification: D51, D52, D72, K20, N81
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation