Rumsfeld’s Legacy: Aspartame and brain cancer

In honor of Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir, here’s another part of his legacy: as president of G.D. Searle, Rumsfeld got the FDA to approve aspartame (aka Nutra-sweet, Equal, or Canderel), shortly after Reagan was elected, despite massive evidence that it caused cancer. Don’t believe me, listen to Mike Wallace:

Or consider Hesh Goldstein’s opinion:

“If Donald Rumsfeld had never been born think of how many millions of people the world over would not suffer headaches and dizziness. Thousands blind from the free methyl alcohol in aspartame would have sight, and there would be much fewer cases of optic neuritis and macular degeneration. Millions suffering seizures would live normal lives and wouldn`t be taking anti-seizure medication that won’t work because aspartame interacts with drugs and vaccines. Think of the runner, Flo Jo, who drank Diet Coke and died of a grand mal seizure. She, no doubt, would still be alive. Brain fog and memory loss, skyrocketing symptoms of aspartame disease, would not be epidemic.”
What’s not opinion is that aspartame includes methyl acohol and other toxic and carinogenic chemicals.

Rumsfeld sold G.D. Searle to Monsanto in 1984 (Monsanto sold off the aspartame business in 2000 to Ajinomoto, the Japanese food processor that ran an aspartame rat study for the FDA head who approved aspartame). According to Welcome to the Spin Machine by Michael Manville:

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 a 1980 FDA Board of Inquiry, comprised of three independent scientists, which confirmed that it “might induce brain tumors.”

The FDA had actually banned aspartame based on this finding, only to have Searle Chairman Donald Rumsfeld (currently the Secretary of Defense) vow to “call in his markers,” to get it approved.

On January 21, 1981, the day after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, Searle re-applied to the FDA for approval to use aspartame in food sweetener, and Reagan’s new FDA commissioner, Arthur Hayes Hull, Jr., 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, but Hull then installed a sixth member on the commission, and the vote became deadlocked. He then personally broke the tie in aspartame’s favor. Hull later left the FDA under allegations of impropriety, served briefly as Provost at New York Medical College, and then took a position with Burston-Marsteller, the chief public relations firm for both Monsanto and GD Searle. Since that time he has never spoken publicly about aspartame.

And how did Hayes get to be head of the FDA? According to Andrew Cockburn in his book, Rumsfeld: his rise, fall, and catastrophic legacy,
Rumsfeld himself had campaigned for Reagan in the general election. He was on Reagan’s foreign and defense policy advisory committee. His old friend Richard Allen was the new president’s national security adviser. Most important of all, John Robson, his right-hand man at Searle, was on Reagan’s transition team.

The effects of the change in administrations were soon felt at the FDA. Jere Goyan, FDA commissioner at the time, informed me how he was “fired … in early November by a phone call to my California home at two a.m. California time by a very low-level member of the transition team who said that my services were no longer needed. It was the first time that a commissioner had been fired because of a change in administration. I was told to write a letter of resignation and to vacate my office on the day of the inauguration.”

On January 21, 1981, one day after Reagan had taken the oath of office, Searle petitioned to have the inquiry panel’s verdict overruled. Goyan’s place was temporarily occupied by his deputy, who reportedly was anxious not to make waves with his new master. Finally, in April, the administration unveiled its very own FDA commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes.

On July 18, 1981, in the first major regulatory action of his tenure, Hayes approved aspartame for use as a sweetener in solid foods, thereby disregarding the inquiry verdict as well as yet another internal study that raised alarms about the cancer risk.

Quite a legacy.