Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Aspartame: Donald's Very Own WMD

Marketed as Nutrasweet, Equal and Spoonful, almost all "low-calorie, diet or no-added sugar drinks" now contain the artificial sweetner, Aspartame.

Since it was introduced in 1981, Aspartame has been the subject of a great many of the complaints reported to the adverse reaction monitors of the US Food and Drug Administration. Coca-Cola knew of the dangers of Aspartame because it originally opposed approval by the FDA. It said that it was inherently unstable and breaks down into methyl alcohol, formic acid, formaldehyde and other toxins.

And yet, Aspartame is now to be found in every diet coke can.

When news leaked out alleging that G.D.Searle, who owned Aspartame, had falsified test results, congress pledged $60,000,000 for the prosecution of the firm's Chairman. However, the Reagan administration closed ranks and prevented the trial of one of their own from taking place.

The chairman of G.D. Searle at the time was none other than DONALD RUMSFELD, George Bush's infamous Defence Secretary and one of the leading Neoconservative 'hawks' that forced Gulf War II upon the world.

G.D. Searle is now a subsidiary of MONSANTO.

Anyone out there think I'm a conspiracy theorist? You do? Well, check out what Roger Williams, the Lib Dem MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, had to say on the floor of the House of Commons on 14 January 2005:
“For almost a year, I have been looking into the safety of the artificial sweetener, Aspartame, and I was truly horrified by what I discovered. When I began my research, I was unconvinced by the off-the-wall internet conspiracy theories. I am a man of science, not of the internet. However, a number of eminent academics from the UK and further afield have persuaded me beyond doubt that Aspartame represents a serious health problem.

There is strong scientific evidence that the components of Aspartame and their metabolites can cause very serious toxic effects in humans. There is also a wealth of subjective evidence that suggests a range of adverse neurological reactions to Aspartame… long-term Aspartame use causes cancer in rodents. The world health organisation recognises such findings in rats as highly predictive of carcinogenic risk for humans.

The history of Aspartame's approval is mired in controversy, not least because of the likes of Donald Rumsfeld ‘calling in his markers’ to get it approved. The science that supported its approval was biased, inconclusive and incompetent. Aspartame is in a higher category of risk than Sudan 1, the UK's fastest recalled food substance. However, bad science, bad regulation and bad politics have left the bigger of those two threats in everyday products on our supermarket shelves.

Aspartame is consumed every day by an average of one in 15 people worldwide, most of whom are children. How many children in Britain do not consume walker's prawn cocktail crisps, orbit or airwaves chewing gum, Robinson's fruit squash, Lucozade or Diet Coke? Aspartame is even found in Centrum Kidz Multivitamins, Lemsip cold and flu sachets for children, and Nurofen Meltlets for children. Those are the very products that are designed to cure our children when they are sick.

The economic reality of a sweetening agent that costs one third of the price of sugar means that it is present in no fewer than 6,000 foods, drinks and pharmaceutical products in our supermarkets. The history of the approval of this ubiquitous product puts public health regulators and politicians to shame. Crucial questions that have been largely repressed since the early '80s hang over Aspartame's safety.

When journalists attempted to tackle those questions, their newspapers were threatened with intimidating letters from the industry's lawyers. I am duty-bound by the immunity afforded to me under parliamentary privilege — and as a servant of the public — to initiate a debate that has been silenced for over two decades.

I believe that Aspartame should never have been licensed for use as a low-calorie sweetener in foods and drinks, and that there is compelling and reliable evidence for this carcinogenic substance to be banned from the UK food and drinks market…

The chemical breakdown of Aspartame reveals three basic components: a methyl ester and two amino acids; phenylalanine and aspartic acid… when aspartic acid enters the bloodstream… (it) becomes an excitotoxin, a toxic molecule that stimulates nerve cells to the point of damage or death…

If both of the amino acids in Aspartame are potentially very harmful to humans, the third component—methyl ester—is the most harmful and potentially lethal component. As soon as it is ingested, the methyl ester is metabolised by the body into methanol. Methanol is a well-known poison.

In the United States, the environmental protection agency defines safe consumption of methanol as no more than 7.8 mg per day. That means that anyone drinking three cans of a drink sweetened with Aspartame is consuming about 56 mg of methanol, eight times the EPA limit… then comes the alarming part: methanol is unstable in the human body and so gets converted into formaldehyde… Let us be clear that formaldehyde is a class a poison, which was used to prevent dead bodies from decaying.

Do we really want our children exposed to an embalming fluid? Some of the formaldehyde accumulated in the body will be converted into formic acid, a potent toxin, which can cause central nervous system depression and, in sufficient quantity, coma and death. Many human studies show the adverse effects from chronic, low-level formaldehyde exposure. Crucially, in 1998, Trocho demonstrated that, even when consuming small doses, severe problems occur from the gradual accumulation of formaldehyde in the body, which cannot be excreted.

A working group looking into the toxicity of chemicals in humans found that exposure to formaldehyde induced leukaemia—a cancer of the white blood cells—and cancer of the nose and throat. Surely, if Aspartame metabolites have been shown to cause cancer in humans, we should be more concerned about the safety of the entire product. How can the government, faced with those facts, still hope to reassure regular consumers of Diet Cola and other products containing Aspartame that they do not run a significantly higher risk of developing cancer as a result of drinking them?…

Hon. Members will no doubt remember the scandal in February this year, when Sudan 1 dye found in food in the UK led to possibly the biggest and fastest ever food recall that this country has ever known. A human being would have had to consume 3 tonnes of Worcestershire sauce every day for two years for potentially harmful effects to occur from tiny doses of Sudan 1 in foods. Despite that minimal risk, however, it was removed immediately.

Sudan 1 was found to be carcinogenic in 1975, but despite that it was placed in the least dangerous of the three who categories of carcinogenic substances. Aspartame, which is found in 10 times more products is, on the basis of the ground-breaking Ramazzini study, in who category 2, which is potentially far more dangerous to humans.

The Ramazzini study, to which I will return in depth later, revealed a repeated incidence of malignant tumours in rats after moderate regular consumption. Will the minister explain why the treatment of Aspartame, which is still in 6,000 supermarket products today, has been so different from that of Sudan 1?

The toxicity of Aspartame's individual components is surely sufficient for us to be alarmed about its widespread use in the products that we and our children consume every day. But consumers and scientists alike have shown there is cause for concern from the regular consumption of products containing Aspartame. The us food and drug administration website lists more than 9,000 Aspartame-related health complaints, but this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Health professionals are often unable to diagnose a case of Aspartame toxicity when they see one—after all, doctors are not currently trained to recognise it—and a number of cases have been misdiagnosed. A number of independent studies have shown that Aspartame toxicity mimics conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, panic disorder, lupus, diabetes, lymphoma, depression and other psychological disorders…

The conclusions of the Ramazzini study deserve painstaking dissection… This vast study demonstrated that Aspartame administered at varying levels in feed causes a statistically significant increase of lymphomas and leukaemias, malignant tumours of the kidneys in female rats and malignant tumours of peripheral and cranial nerves in male rats. Such tumours occurred even in two of the doses that were well below the acceptable daily intake recommended by regulatory authorities in the eu and the us.

There has been a wealth of compelling and rigorous research showing Aspartame to be harmful, which culminated in last month's comprehensive Ramazzini study. How has the industry responded to such an overwhelming volume of sound science? I met industry representatives in October and if they were not scientifically illiterate, they were certainly very misinformed as to the credentials of the Ramazzini study, which they presented as worthless, unpublished and un-peer-reviewed.

Holland sweetener, Ajinomoto and Nutrasweet must think that they are very convincing when they claim that Aspartame is the safest product on the market by virtue of the 500 studies attesting to its safety. One can test a product 4,000 times, but if the tests are badly conducted and planned in such a way as to yield the desired results, its safety will always be questionable. In reality, the contrast between the quality of the science in the ramazzini study and the industry studies could not be more clear or more damaging to the industry.

Serious doubts have been raised that suggest links between the results of scientific research and the body responsible for funding it. Professor Ralph Walton, who is present today, demonstrated in 1996 that of the 166 studies conducted on Aspartame's safety deemed relevant to humans, 74 were sponsored by the Aspartame industry and 92 were independently funded. Of the 92 non-industry sponsored studies, 92 per cent. Identified one or more problems with Aspartame's safety. The industry-sponsored studies, on the other hand, found unanimously in favour of Aspartame's safety…

On the question of who to trust on the competing scientific tests—be they on diabetes or aspartame safety—the track record of the industry should leave us in no doubt. The history of aspartame's approval is one in which sound science and proper regulatory and political independence seem to be notable by their absence. Aspartame was first licensed in the United States in 1981. Searle, the chemical company that discovered it, submitted a host of tests to the FDA in the hope of getting it approved. It was granted a provisional licence in 1974. However, when flaws were revealed in the science behind another Searle product —Flagyl — later that year, aspartame's impending licence was brought into question.

The FDA set up a task-force to investigate 15 of the key aspartame studies submitted by Searle. Dr. Bressler was commissioned to investigate three of those studies. Due to insufficient funds, the FDA submitted the other 12 studies to be analysed by a body called universities associated for research and evaluation in pathology, which was under contract with Searle and which unsurprisingly declared all 12 studies to be authentic. Aspartame was recommended for approval.

Meanwhile, dr. Bressler reported to the FDA in early 1976. He found no fewer than 52 major discrepancies in Searle's clinical conduct of its toxicological studies. They included no clear record being kept of the doses fed to rats; antibiotics being given to animals showing symptoms but not being reported; tumours contracted by rats during the experiment being surgically removed before dissection and not reported; and, above all, no clear record of death. One record shows an animal was alive, then dead, then alive, then dead.

Yet despite the 52 major discrepancies, FDA scientists were overruled by the FDA's administration, which seems to have been more concerned with safeguarding the institution's reputation after having been initially misled by unreliable data…

It is quite clear that Searle's scientists breached even the most basic understanding of sound laboratory science. However, the real tragedy is that it was on those 15 deeply flawed studies that the final decision to approve Aspartame in the US was made, and many other countries soon followed suit. Today, those same highly questionable studies still underpin the science attesting to Aspartame's safety.

Aspartame's approval incorporates not just bad science but bad politics. On the political scene, Donald Rumsfeld was instrumental in securing its approval. As chief executive officer of Searle from 1977, he publicly pledged to call in his markers to get it approved…

When Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president in 1981, Donald Rumsfeld was on his transition team. President Reagan sealed the lid on the Aspartame controversy. On the very day of his inauguration, Reagan personally wrote the executive order suspending the FDA commissioner's powers on Aspartame. Reagan replaced the commissioner one month later with Arthur Hayes jr., who granted the official licence for Aspartame.

The history of its approval is littered with examples showing that if key decision-makers found against its safety, they were discredited, ignored or replaced by industry sympathisers, who were in turn recompensed with lucrative jobs…

I have raised some of the most important questions about Aspartame's safety ever discussed in this place. There is solid evidence to suggest that its regular long-term use can cause cancer and a range of other health problems. Emergency action is now needed to remove the toxin from our own and our children's diets.

Aspartame has caused concern among the public and the scientific community for more than 30 years. Better information or better product labelling simply is not enough at this point. Today, I am giving the government a chance to set right what previous British, European and international health authorities have so dismally failed to do. A total ban is the only way to protect the British public.”
Nine years on, Aspartame is still to be found in many of our 'foods, drinks and pharmaceutical products'.

The politicians never did ban it.

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