British Parliament Blows the Whistle on Aspartame

Safety of artificial sweetener called into question by MP

Examples cited in the Commons of the 6,000 products with aspartame

Felicity Lawrence, consumer affairs correspondent
Thursday December 15, 2005
The Guardian

In 1977 Donald Rumsfeld, now George Bush’s defence secretary but then chief executive of the pharmaceutical company GD Searle, publicly stated that he would “call in his markers” to win a licence for aspartame, the sweetener that had been discovered by chance in Searle’s laboratories, according to Roger Williams in the Commons yesterday.

Mr Williams, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said in an adjournment debate that there was much controversy about aspartame’s safety at the time but “Rumsfeld appears to have honoured his pledge”. In fact, “the history of the approval of aspartame puts public health regulators and politicians to shame”.

The sweetener is now used in 6,000 products, from crisps such as Walkers prawn cocktail, to soft drinks including Diet Coke and Robinson’s fruit squash, chewing gums such as Orbit, and vitamins pills and medicines. Yet the science on which it was given approval was “biased, inconclusive, and incompetent”. “There is compelling and reliable evidence for this carcinogenic substance to be banned from the UK food and drinks market.”

On the day of his inauguration as president in 1981, with Mr Rumsfeld on his transition team, Ronald Reagan personally wrote an executive order suspending the head of the US Food and Drug Administration’s powers on aspartame, Mr Williams further claimed. One month later Mr Reagan appointed a new head of the regulatory authority, Arthur Hayes, who granted a licence for the sweetener.

“The history of aspartame’s approval is littered with examples showing that if key decision makers found against aspartame’s safety, they were discredited or replaced by industry sympathisers, who were recompensed with lucrative jobs.”

The MP said he was using his parliamentary privilege to highlight “the strong scientific evidence” that the components of aspartame and their metabolites can cause very serious toxic effects on humans, and that long-term aspartame use can cause cancer.

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