Interview Published in NUTRITION & HEALING
[Cover story Interview with Mary Nash Stoddard, founder of the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network and author of a source book about the sweetener, aspartame.
Dr. Jonathan V. Wright's NUTRITION & HEALING with Alan R. Gaby, M.D., November 1995 - Vol. 2, Issue 11. Pub. by Nutrition & Healing, Inc., Phoenix, AZ.]
Q: Your important consumer education work on the sweetener “aspartame” is well known and we are delighted to speak to you. Is it true that the large majority of non-drug complaints to the Food and Drug Administration are about adverse reactions to aspartame, also called NutraSweet or Equal?
A: Currently, it’s about 78% of all complaints. At one time, the figure was 85%! Yet, this isn’t reported in the newspapers or announced through other media. It’s a well-hidden secret.
Q: Imagine if it were a vitamin or herbal product, we’d have the federal pill police swarming like angry bees. Would you please list for us some of the symptoms caused by aspartame?
A: Aspartame not only causes individual symptoms, it can mimic entire syndromes! For example, the CFIDS (chronic fatigue and immune deficiency syndrome) newsletter calls it the “sweet poison, NutraSweet,” because it can mimic the symptoms of CFIDS. It can also cause grand mal seizures. According to H.J. Roberts, M.D., it can cause decreased vision, pain in the eyes, decreased tears, ringing in the ears, hearing impairment, headache, dizziness and unsteadiness, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, sleepiness, slurring of speech, numbness and tingling, tremors, depression, irritability, aggression, anxiety, insomnia, phobias, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, itching, hives, menstrual changes, weight gain, hair thinning and hair loss, urinary burning and frequency, excessive thirst, fluid retention, bloating, increased infection, and even death.
A: Five deaths reported prior to 1987. We don’t know the number since then.
Q: What’s in this stuff?
A: Among other things, it’s about 10% methanol (wood alcohol,) famous for causing blindness in alcoholics. In the body, methanol metabolizes into formaldehyde, a neurotoxin; formic acid, a venom in ant stings; and diketopiperazine, which causes brain tumors in animals. It’s so bad that in July of 1983, the National Soft Drink Association presented official objections to putting aspartame in beverages. I’ll read you one of their objections: “It is well established under Section 402(a)(3) that a food which contains a decomposed substance…is subject to seizure by FDA.” It’s thoroughly established that after a number of weeks and at temperatures over 85 degrees F, there’s no aspartame left in a soft drink, only breakdown products. So, why isn’t FDA seizing it under Section 402 (a)(3)?
Q: Your book, Deadly Deception reports that initially FDA had started investigations of the G.D. Searle Company, makers of aspartame.
A: Yes. In 1977 an FDA task force submitted a 15,000 page document covering their investigation. Here are two quotes:
“We have uncovered serious deficiencies in Searle’s integrity…”
“The cumulative findings of problems within and across the studies we investigated reveal a pattern of conduct which compromises the scientific integrity of the studies.”
Q: These are from FDA’s own task force report on Searle’s aspartame research?
A: Exactly. Your readers may not know that aspartame was originally approved in 1974, but when the brain-tumor issue arose, the approval was withdrawn.
Q: Tell us about the “brain-tumor issue.”
A: Many of the test animals fed aspartame developed large tumors. These were actually cut out, and the animals returned to the study. In some cases, the tumors weren’t even examined for malignancy, and the tumors weren’t reported to FDA. In several cases, animals were reported as dead and later reported as alive again.
Q: No wonder FDA’s task force “uncovered serious deficiencies in Searle’s integrity!”
A: The results of the task force investigation of aspartame and other Searle drugs were presented to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor and Public Welfare. Senator Edward Kennedy said that “the extensive nature of the almost unbelievable range of abuses discovered by the FDA on several major Searle products is profoundly disturbing.”
Q: So, how did aspartame ever get approved and progress so far into our food supply?
A: Well, for one thing, a former member of Congress and Chief of Staff in the Ford Administration, Donald Rumsfeld, was hired as President of Searle in 1977. Rumsfeld was paid $2 million in salary and $1.5 million in bonuses between 1979 and 1984.
A: Also, in 1977, Senior Assistant U.S. Attorney, William Conlon was assigned to the Searle case. He took no action, despite repeated prodding by Richard Merrill, Chief Counsel to the FDA. One year later, Conlon took a position with Sidley and Austin, the law firm representing Searle.
Q: A pattern seems to be emerging.
A: Rumsfeld, now Searle president, hired: John Robson as Executive Vice-President – he had been a spokesman of the Civil Aeronautics Board; William Greener as Chief Spokesman for Searle – he had been a spokesman in the Ford White House; and, Robert Shapiro as General Counsel, who later became head of Searle’s NutraSweet Division – he had been a Special Assistant in the Department of Transportation. But, here’s the pay-off!
Q: No pun intended?
A: The facts are interesting, aren’t they? In 1983, the Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr. approved NutraSweet for soft drinks two months before leaving office. Two-to-three months later, he accepted a position as Senior Medical Advisor to Searle’s public relations firm, Burson Marsteller. He was paid $1,000 per day as consultant.
Q: Really, $1,000 a day? This is a matter of public record?
A: A matter of public record. And, Michael Taylor was also involved in the approval of aspartame.
Q: Michael Taylor, the Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) man, who worked for FDA, lawyered for Monsanto to get rBGH approved, then went to work for FDA writing their BGH regulations?
A: The very same. Didn’t you know that G. D. Searle is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Monsanto, with Robert Shapiro as current CEO?
Q: What a surprise. And a not unfamiliar pattern. But, tell us about aviation and aspartame.
A: The official Air Force safety magazine, FLYING SAFETY, and the Navy’s flight magazine, NAVY PHYSIOLOGY, have both published warnings about using aspartame and flying.
Q: Will you give us an example?
A: A pilot called ACSN’s Pilot Hotline two nights ago and told me about his experience. Flying for Peninsula Airlines in Alaska, he had a seizure in flight at 10,000 feet and was grounded. He had been drinking eight to ten cups of coffee a day sweetened with Equal, another aspartame compound. Since he quit aspartame, he’s been seizure-free, but he hasn’t been allowed to fly.
Q: We need to know more about this.
A: In my book, Deadly Deception, there’s a reprint of a scientific paper showing that aspartame aggravates abnormal brain waves in children with epilepsy (Neurology 1992;42:1000-1003.)
Q: Maybe airline passengers should question pilots about aspartame use before boarding! What about those U.S. Senate hearings during which pilots testified about the adverse effects of aspartame on their flying abilities?
A: There have actually been three hearings.
Q: Here we go again!
A: Speaking of contributions… watch out diabetics! The NutraSweet company has given money, money, money to the American Diabetic Association. And, remember when you hear a registered dietitian say aspartame is safe for pregnant women, children, and everyone else, the Registered Dietitian’s professional association has been given $75,000 to expound on the virtues of aspartame. The American Dietetic Association has even stated that the NutraSweet company writes their “Fact Sheets.”
Q: So, there’s money everywhere…to members of Congress, former regulatory bureaucrats, professional associations…
A: Absolutely. Aspartame approval and persistence on the market has everything to do with money and politics, and almost nothing to do with science and reason. Even the FDA’s own reviewers were against aspartame until those political/financial events I’ve mentioned.
Q: Is there any hope to reverse all this?
A: Each of us will have to do it ourselves, one at a time and by spreading the word. Fortunately, it appears that the public pays more attention to this issue when they’re given access to the information I’ve been outlining. The last TV show I appeared on about this issue, received 100,000 calls over the next three days.
Q: Thank you so much for devoting your time and energy to spreading the word about the hazards of aspartame.
A: Your readers can call the ASPARTAME CONSUMER SAFETY NETWORK at (214)352-4268 for more information as well as many suggestions for helping to make known the truth about aspartame.
*(U.S. Attorney, Samuel Skinner was prosecuting G.D. Searle for falsifying ests submitted for approval of aspartame, but recused himself at the last minute to join Searle’s law firm, Sidley & Austin. Skinner then went back into Government, becoming head of the Dept. of Transportation – over the FAA. From there he was appointed Chief of Staff in President Bush’s White House. Recently, he was nominated Man-of-the-Year by the Epilepsy Foundation in Chicago. Ironically, aspartame is reported to “trigger” epilepsy in a number of Epileptics. Also, former Monsanto Attorney, Clarence Thomas was appointed Supreme Court Judge amidst swirling controversy over his appointment! Ed.)