Monday, December 12, 2005

Aspartame, Toxic Ignorance of Rumsfeld

C.B. alerts me to an interesting bit of research by public interest scientist, Mary O'Brien on how the artificial sweetener, aspartame, was approved by US government officials for human consumption despite empirical results that showed it causes cancers and even "holes in the brain" in animal experiments. Turns out that this typical story of backroom deals and corporate purchasing power involves a guy named Donald Rumsfeld who transferred from Secretary of Defense (sound familiar?) under President Gerald Ford in 1977 over to CEO of the company that owned aspartame and needed FDA safety-approval to market it. Rumsfeld got a Pentagon insider doctor as the medical authority to overturn the FDA decision against aspartame. The rest is history, as you can see by reading the label on your can, your drink, your sugarfree gum and cake and etc.

Agnotology reveals the corporate construction of toxic ignorance again.

Here's Mary O'Brien's moral of the story:

First, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's leap over lack of WMD evidence, his own military's advice, and UN process to get President Bush's Iraq War underway is a well-practiced move.

Second, a child or soldier who dies in Iraq from a bomb and an adult who dies in the U.S. from aspartame-caused cancer share at least one person in common who contributed to their death.

Third, whenever politically positioned people, whether nationally or locally, regard law and evidence as mere hurdles to leap over to get what they want, it's our job as citizens to keep those laws in place, that evidence in the open, and those people in line.

Story originally published in a small alternative press paper, The Eugene Weekly at the link above.
See comment below for update on political action taken on December 14.


At 7:17 PM, Blogger E. Heroux said...

MP calls for ban on 'unsafe' sweetener
Felicity Lawrence, consumer affairs correspondent
Thursday December 15, 2005
The Guardian

A member of the parliamentary select committee on food and the environment yesterday called for emergency action to ban the artificial sweetener aspartame, used in 6,000 food, drink and medicinal products.

The Liberal Democrat MP Roger Williams said in an adjournment debate in the Commons that there was "compelling and reliable evidence for this carcinogenic substance to be banned from the UK food and drinks market altogether". In licensing aspartame for use, regulators around the world had failed in their main task of protecting the public, he told MPs.

Mr Williams highlighted new concerns about the additive's safety, raised by a recent Italian study that linked it to cancer in rats. He said the history of aspartame's licensing put "regulators and politicians to shame", with the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary and former head of Searle, the company that discovered the sweetener, "calling in his markers" to get it approved.

Responding for the government, the public health minister, Caroline Flint, said a thorough independent review of safety data had been conducted as recently as 2001 and the Food Standards Agency advice remained the same: aspartame is safe for use in food. She said the government took food safety very seriously.

The European Food Safety Authority would be reviewing the Italian study as soon as it had full data on it, but an initial review by the UK's expert committee on toxicity had not been convinced by its authors' interpretation of their data. "I am advised that aspartame does not cause cancer," she said, adding that artificial sweeteners also help to control obesity.

Aspartame is now consumed on average every day by one in 15 people worldwide, most of whom are children, according to the MP. It is used to sweeten no fewer than 6,000 products, from crisps, confectionery, chewing gums, diet and sports drinks to vitamin pills and medicines, including those for children. Yet the science that supported its approval was "biased, inconclusive and incompetent".

Mr Williams said he was using the immunity he was afforded under parliamentary privilege to initiate a debate about aspartame's safety which had been largely repressed since the early 1980s, with the help of the sweetener industry's lawyers.

Independent research published last month by the European Ramazzini Foundation showed moderate regular consumption of aspartame led to a repeated incidence of malignant tumours in rats and "should have set alarm bells ringing in health departments around the world", he said. "The World Health Organisation recognises such findings in rats as being highly predictive of a carcinogenic risk for humans. The contrast between the quality of the science in the Ramazzini study and the industry studies could not be more clear and more damaging to the industry."

Mr Williams, the MP for Brecon and Radnorshire and a Cambridge science graduate, said he had been looking into the safety of aspartame for more than a year. At first he had been unconvinced by the "internet conspiracy theories" but he said what he had found had "truly horrified" him.

{now we're getting somewhere...}


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