Aspartame! The mere mention of it sends shivers through the spines of proactive label-readers. It is an artificial sweetener that was accidentally discovered to be 180 times sweeter than sugar with no calories. Featured prominently in “NutraSweet” and diet soda drinks, where you will find the words “CONTAINS ASPARTAME” emblazoned on the front label as required by law. But I’m not talking about the health concerns here today.
Rather, I came across a curious history of the legal side of aspartame, and how it came to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to be allowed in food products. In 1970 there were two artificial sweeteners on the market, and they both got banned due to linked health problems. This was just when the GD Searle company was trying to launch its new discovery. Early tests on animals went terribly. Monkeys died. Baby mice got holes in their brains. The company spent millions of dollars on studies until they felt they had enough safety evidence. The FDA wasn’t impressed.
The research was so bad, inaccurate, and apparently manipulated that the FDA asked the US Attorney to start a criminal investigation against the company. That had never happened before. Bad news for the GD Searle company. They bring in reinforcements. They hire Donald Rumsfeld as CEO. Even then he was a heavy-hitter in Washington, having served as Secretary of Defence for former President Gerald Ford. (and of course, he infamously came back to the post for George W. Bush)
As the federal grand jury is investigating GD Searle for criminal intent, the lead attorney on the case jumps ship. He is hired on to the other side working for GD Searle. Call me crazy, but that seems… umm… slightly suspicious. It causes such a mess that the case drops off the map entirely due to the statute of limitations. (they took too long to investigate)
Now 1980, the FDA’s Public Board of Inquiry decides aspartame should not be approved as being a safe food additive. Another serious blow to the fate of the GD Searle company, but the political winds were changing.
Ronald Reagan becomes President of the United States. It just so happens, Reagan has Donald Rumsfeld on his team of advisors, and in the transition, a new FDA Commissioner is hand-picked for the job. One of his first official acts, within months of the switch, was to overrule the previous findings and approve aspartame for use in dry foods. NutraSweet hits the shelves. Ummm… slightly suspicious?
A couple years later, aspartame gets the FDA green light for liquid use, despite safety concerns from the National Soft Drik Association. They say that aspartame can decompose above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 C) into the toxins DKP and formaldehyde.
In 1983 this “proactive” FDA commissioner resigns under a pile of controversy, and yet another “umm… suspicious” move, gets hired on as a scientific consultant for the public relations firm of the GD Searle company.
CEO Rumsfeld wins awards for the succesful turnaround of the GD Searle company, which is later bought by Monsanto, the agriculture giant and producer of RoundUp herbicide and genetically-modified seed, which is the subject of some scary conspiracy stories that would curl aspartames’s toes!
And we all live happily ever after… with aspartame!
- Source: The timeline of aspartame’s approval from the Swankin-Turner law office (who may well have some other agenda… I don’t know)