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Sunday, November 4, 2012


Death by Diet Pop

How Donald Rumsfeld Slipped Poison into Almost Everything You Eat and Drink

By Harvey Wasserman 

The cargo of diet soda sat on the blistering tarmac as Operation Desert Storm raged all around. With temperatures soaring in the blazing Persian Gulf sun, the three chemical components of the pop's key ingredient—the bitterly controversial no-cal sweetener aspartame—turned poisonous.

At 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the wood alcohol/methanol (a deadly toxin) in aspartame began to convert to, among other things, formaldehyde and formic acid. Most of the cans would be re-refrigerated, but when our thirsty troops drank the chemical brew it would join with other toxins to help create, some believe, Gulf War Syndrome.

At that point, the four-day Gulf War had apparently killed precious few Americans. But in the years since,  hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans have been crippled by a horrifying range of toxic ailments. Under brand names like NutraSweet and Equal, the same aspartame that may have harmed them is now embedded in over 6,000 food and drink products consumed by hundreds of millions of humans in more than 90 countries.

Fittingly, Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, was the former CEO of G.D. Searle & Company, a worldwide pharmaceutical company, and original owner of the aspartame patent. After he helped legalize the mass use of aspartame, Rumsfeld pocketed at least $12 million when Searle was absorbed by Monsanto Company, while the veterans of the Gulf War—and the rest of us—still pay dearly.

Aspartame took Rumsfeld's Searle Company out of the financial trash heap. The many companies that now sell it make billions in profits from the white powder that is believed to have spawned a devil's headstone of diseases.  These include Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, lupus, multiple sclerosis, cancer, brain tumors, blurred vision and blindness, dementia, epilepsy, grand mal seizures, migraines, autism, in utero brain damage, diabetes, and—surprise!—obesity.

Today aspartame is produced and distributed by hundreds of companies worldwide.   It's in almost every wrapped or bottled substance you eat or drink. It may be the source of a rampant, hugely expensive public health epidemic that's crippling America and other nations around the globe.

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by a chemist named James M. Schlatter who was looking for an anti-ulcer drug for G.D. Searle & Company . When Schlatter accidentally licked his finger, he tasted a substance almost 200 times sweeter than sugar, but with no calories. Teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, Searle knew what it had. America wanted to be slim and slender at the same time it consumed the mountains of sugar that were pouring into soft drinks and packaged food. Aspartame was looking like a cash bonanza. Nevermind that the substance is comprised of three excitotoxins that put holes in baby mouse brains and is suspected of seriously damaging human nervous systems.

For years Searle chiseled away at the Food and Drug Administration, demanding Schlatter's miracle powder be approved for general use.  But aspartame's brew of aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol had deadly side effects.   In 1967 a Searle scientist fed seven monkeys aspartame in milk: One died, five had grand mal  seizures. In 1971 Washington University neuroscientist Dr. John W. Olney warned Searle that aspartic acid can perforate the brains of lab animals.

The phenylalanine had serious impacts of its own but the methanol (a/k/a wood alcohol) was worse. When heated it turned into formaldehyde, which is used to embalm dead bodies, and then to formic acid, the same toxin found in the venom of bee and ant stings. Both can poison a wide range of animals, including human beings; leave an opened can of diet soda at room temperature for more than ten days, and that's what you'll get.

In 1974, over widespread scientific objections, the FDA approved aspartame's limited use in dry products. Official investigators reported they "had never seen anything as bad as Searle's testing." The FDA asked the US Attorney to convene a grand jury.

In 1977, as proceedings began, chief investigator Samuel Skinner left the government and joined Searle's own law firm. The company then recruited Rumsfeld as its new CEO. Dubbed a "ruthless little bastard" by his mentor, Richard Nixon, Rumsfeld ran Gerald Ford's White House, and then, as part of the Reagan transition team (and while still CEO of Searle) he pushed aspartame through the FDA.

But the flood of warnings continued. Lab tests showed a 25% increase in tumors and brain damage in monkeys, according to Olney. Mississippi-based health researcher Dr. Russell Blaylock descried Searle's methods and findings as "bizarre," and warned that humans may be far more sensitive to damage from aspartame than mice and monkeys.

Searle's "scientific" methods were called "sloppy" by the head of the FDA at the time. He said their "research" was filled with "clerical errors, mixed-up animals, animals not getting the drugs they were supposed to get, pathological specimens lost because of improper handling, and a variety of other errors, [which] even if innocent, all conspire to obscure positive findings and produce falsely negative results."   A 1980 FDA Board of Inquiry found that aspartame "might induce brain tumors" in violation of the Delaney Clause, passed in 1958, which requires that any product shown to cause cancer in lab animals must be taken off the market.

Aspartame's defenders now call it one of the "most studied products in history." But nearly all the studies with independent funding show the product to be deadly.

Such findings didn't stop Rumsfeld. When Ronald Reagan took the presidency in 1980, Rumsfeld used his stronghold on the transition team to dump the head of the FDA. He installed Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes, whose very first official act was to rig an advisory team and approve aspartame—now called NutraSweet™—for mass use in dry products. Two years later, while being shoved out the door for ethical violations, Hayes's last act as FDA Commissioner was to approve it for use in soft drinks. The certification came despite objections from the National Soft Drink Association, which warned aspartame's safety had not been proven.

Hayes landed at  Burson Marsteller. They were the prime PR firm for Searle and for Monsanto, which bought Searle in 1985 for $2.7 billion. Reagan mainstay Rumsfeld personally netted some $12 million.

As aspartame poured into America's food and drink, over 10,000 health complaints poured into the FDA. America had become a test lab filled with human subjects and no pretense of science. Amidst the uproar, the late Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) held high profile hearings. "By ignoring the safety concerns which have been raised," he warned, "we are potentially jeopardizing the health and safety of over 100 million Americans who are ingesting NutraSweet in everything from soft drinks to pudding to children's cold remedies."

Metzenbaum then sponsored S 1557, which  required independent studies of aspartame's impacts on brain chemistry, fetuses and pregnant women, seizures, interactions with other drugs, and neurological effects.

Monsanto had the bill killed in committee.  In 2005 the FDA ceased collecting reaction reports or monitoring studies on aspartame .
Monsanto was selling the stuff by the hundreds of tons per year. Its Searle division became hugely profitable. Overall sales jumped from 220 tons in 1982 to 10,200 tons in 1995. A good part of that huge jump occurred in 1992 when, the patent having expired, dozens of companies added aspartame into their products. 

In 1996 Dr. Ralph Walton of Northeastern Ohio Universities gave CBS-TV's 60 Minutes a survey of 165 studies on aspartame. All 74 sponsored by the industry showed zero health effects. But 84 of 91 funded from non-industry sources showed serious impacts. Six of the other seven came from the revolving-door FDA.

Research on toxic chemicals is generally done in laboratories, on rats, monkeys and other animals. But today's "experiment" with aspartame is being conducted on hundreds of millions of consumers all over the world. As much as half of the American population consumes something with aspartame in it every day.

Today's most vital aspartame research comes from medical doctors like Hyman Roberts. Ironically, and almost without exception, when people stop consuming "diet drinks," they lose weight.

The link to Gulf War Syndrome remains a nagging but instructive mystery. Bad vaccinations, desert fleas, chemical warfare, traumatic stress: Many other agents could have joined degenerated diet sodas in causing this wide range of symptoms that have debilitated a quarter-million veterans of a four-day war in which very few Americans died in actual combat.

Since Rumsfeld rammed aspartame through the FDA, human brain tumor incidence in the overall population has soared. So has a terrifying plague of devastating diseases that doctors like Roberts and Blaylock say consistently disappear as soon as the victims dump their diet drinks.   Historians sometimes blame the fall of Rome on lead that leached into drinking water from the city's elaborate piping system. Since the 1970s, aspartame may have been doing the same to the American brain.

Legislators in Hawaii and New Mexico have tried to ban the stuff altogether. The U.S. as a whole needs to do just that, before our minds and bodies---and those of our children---are utterly destroyed by corporate America's sweetest, most profitable poison.


There is substantial controversy in the airline pilot community about diet drinks and chewing gum (which is used by pilots to stabilize air pressure in their heads). Seizures and other perceptual problems suffered by pilots while flying may be related to aspartame, according to a number of mainstream airline industry magazines here and in Europe & Australia.

The most dangerous entry point for aspartame into your body may be chewing gum. lists dozens of brands that contain it. "Taken in via the digestive tract, [aspartame] is made into at least six other toxic substances," says Mary Nash Stoddard of the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network and Pilot Hotline.

The problem, she warns, is that "the nerves that serve this area get their vascular supply directly from the brain," meaning the aspartame bypasses the spinal cord and blood brain barrier. It therefore can go directly into the brain and begin damaging cells. Virtually all gums sold today have aspartame or neotame in them.  Some have been traced to seizures by those who chew them.

There is no formal study or ban.

Michael J. Fox, who developed Parkinson's at a very young age, has been a long-time spokesman for Diet Pepsi and apparently consumed (and may still consume) prodigious quantities of the stuff. 

DRAFT SIDEBAR #3: Aspartame on Steroids
Neotame is a souped-up version of aspartame, and "the most potent chemical sweetener marketed today," according to the co-founder of the anti-aspartame Social Movement, Mary Nash Stoddard. Approved by the FDA in 2002, there are no labeling requirements for Neotame. "This is a new, potentially toxic form of aspartame," warns Mary Nash Stoddard of the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network (  "It will be ubiquitous in the food supply," she states, having been approved for unlabeled use throughout Europe, China, Australia and elsewhere.
Neotame can be 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Stoddard adds that "the new ingredient they added to aspartame to make Neotame—3.3-dimethylbutyl—was on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of 'Most Hazardous Chemicals' in 1998." Blaylock and Stoddard agree that Neotame's unlabeled presence in chewing gum, soft drinks, pudding, yogurt-type products, baked goods and more make it a leading threat to global health.