The Huffington Post
The artificial sweetener aspartame (E951), marketed as NutraSweet, AminoSweet, Equal and Canderel, has been the subject of constant controversy since its initial approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974. Critics point to the conflicts of interest that marred the FDA’s approval of aspartame, the shoddy industry-funded research supporting its safety, and point to independent research that shows numerous health risks associated with aspartame.
By 1998, aspartame products were the cause of 80% of complaints to the FDA about food additives. The complaints included headache, dizziness, change in mood, vomiting or nausea, abdominal pain and cramps, change in vision, diarrhea, seizures/convulsions, memory loss, and fatigue.
Aspartame was found to be safe for human consumption by more than ninety countries, however the regulatory agencies have accepted the company-sponsored research without ever having done independent confirmatory studies.
So how does Donald Rumsfeld fit in to all this? A little history:
In 1985, Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle, the chemical company that held the patent to aspartame, the active ingredient in NutraSweet. Monsanto was apparently untroubled by aspartame’s clouded past, including the report of a 1980 FDA Board of Inquiry, comprised of three independent scientists, which confirmed that it “might induce brain tumors.” The FDA had previously banned aspartame based on this finding, only to have then-Searle Chairman Donald Rumsfeld vow to “call in his markers,” to get it approved. Here’s how it happened:
Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president January 21, 1981. Rumsfeld, while still CEO at Searle, was part of Reagan’s transition team. This team hand-picked Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., to be the new FDA commissioner. Dr. Hayes, a pharmacologist, had no previous experience with food additives before being appointed director of the FDA. On January 21, 1981, the day after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, Reagan issued an executive order eliminating the FDA commissioners’ authority to take action and Searle re-applied to the FDA for approval to use aspartame in food sweetener. Hayes, Reagan’s new FDA commissioner, appointed a 5-person Scientific Commission to review the board of inquiry’s decision. It soon became clear that the panel would uphold the ban by a 3-2 decision. So Hayes installed a sixth member on the commission, and the vote became deadlocked. He then personally broke the tie in aspartame’s favor.