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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dr. John Olney and Jas. Turner, Esq. - Two Brave Unsung Heroes


James Turner, a long time Washington D.C. consumer crusader, began his public advocacy career as one of [Ralph] Nader's Raiders. Food safety and the regulatory process were subjects Turner knew a lot about. In the late sixties, he wrote the influential and best selling exposé of the food industry called "The Chemical Feast." Turner established his reputation as a regulatory pit bull when he fought to have cyclamate taken off the FDA's Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list.

Turner determined to vigorously fight aspartame's approval, going through the proper regulatory channels. He took this battle on, largely at his own expense, because he was convinced influence peddling in Washington was behind aspartame's gaining FDA approval.

This isn't the first time Turner and Dr. Olney have had conflicts with Searle. Turner and Olney first joined forces in the late sixties, during the Senate hearings about MSG in baby foods. A few years later, when Olney learned Searle was developing aspartame for use as an artificial sweetener, he became alarmed and contacted his friend, James Turner, immediately.

Olney was worried because aspartic acid (one of three components of aspartame) had very similar properties to glutamic acid (an ingredient of monosodium glutamate, aka MSG) and in his ground breaking research with glutamate, he had shown it to cause brain lesions in infant rats.

Olney met with Searle brass, in order to present his concerns to them, regarding aspartame. Searle supplied Olney with aspartame so he could conduct experiments on the sweetener's safety. Olney fed aspartame to infant rats and observed the same results as he did with glutamate. (Olney has stated that glutamic acid and aspartic acid are virtually interchangeable in their biological effects in humans.) Aspartame caused brain lesions in the experiments with laboratory rats. According to Olney, aspartame caused a loss of neurons, and was responsible for stunted and retarded growth of: pituitary glands, testes and ovaries in animal experiments. Turner says when he and Olney met with Searle officials before aspartame's approval to inform them about the results of Olney's studies, Searle officials "listened politely" and told them they would get back to them. Turner and Olney never heard anything more from Searle.

Olney, a conservative scientist, is adamant when he says "there is no margin of safety for aspartame in a child's diet."

Turner and Olney decided to fight aspartame's approval. Representing a Washington, D.C. public interest group, Consumer Nutrition Institute (CNI), Turner and Olney filed formal objections with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA.) They challenged the validity of some of the key aspartame safety tests, submitted to FDA by the applicant, G.D. Searle. They presented animal studies by Olney and others, showing evidence aspartame causes brain damage, brain tumors, seizures and definite changes in brain chemistry. Turner and Olney were especially concerned about the new sweetener's potential effects on fetuses and young children.

In April, 1975, the FDA scheduled a hearing body, specifically, a Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI), to review the objections to aspartame. While preparing for the PBOI, Dr. Olney examined the FDA files, which contained Searle's "Safety Data Studies."

What Olney discovered buried in those files would obsess him for years to come. He was shocked, when he found results of aspartame feeding experiments, conducted by Searle, which showed an unusually high incidence of brain tumors in rats that ingested the sweetener. There were absolutely no tumors in the control rats.

Olney was even more concerned when he reviewed a long term study of baby monkeys, which Searle researchers were feeding aspartame and milk. Of the seven monkeys, one died and five others had grand mal seizures. Jim Turner, who also looked at the seizure tests, was astonished when Searle scientists claimed these monkey studies proved aspartame's safety - since only the monkeys who received high doses of aspartame had seizures. The monkeys ingesting low doses did not experience seizures. Therefore, the company (G.D. Searle) argued and the FDA agreed - aspartame was "safe."

Turner and Olney worried that when children used NutraSweet (aspartame) products there was no way to control how much NutraSweet they ingested. Searle had not tested aspartame on humans. Safe dosage data for children was not available. Turner and Olney insisted that if children ingested too many products containing NutraSweet, they could easily cross the threshold that would trigger seizures.
submitted by: Mary Nash Stoddard/author Deadly Deception Story of Aspartame. (Co-Founder, with Jas. Turner, of Aspartame Consumer Safety Network and Pilot Hotline since 1987)
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