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Jim 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 Jim Turner knew a lot about . In the late Sixties, he wrote the influential and best selling expose 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 . His success ultimately led to cyclamate's removal from the market in 1970. (Sweetdreams),
Turner committed himself to fighting against aspartame's approval. He took on this battle largely at his own expense because he was convinced that influence-peddling in Washington was the reason behind aspartame's approval.
This isn't the first time Turner and Dr. Olney have had conflicts with Searle. Turner and Olney first joined in the late sixties during the Senate hearings about MSG in baby foods. A few years later, when Olney learned that Searle was developing aspartame for use as an artificial sweetener, he became alarmed and contacted Jim Turner immediately.
Olney was worried because aspartame (one of the three ingredients in aspartame) had very similar properties to glutamate (an ingredient of monosodium glutamate) and in his groundbreaking research with glutamate he had shown that it caused brain lesions in baby rats.
Olney met with Searle brass to present them. with his concerns about aspartame. Searle supplied Olney with aspartame so he could conduct experiments on the sweetener's safety. Sure enough, when Olney fed aspartame to infant rats he got the same results as he did with glutamate it caused brain lesions in the rats. According to Olney, aspartame caused a loss of neurons, and was responsible for stunted and retarded growth of the pituitary glands, testes and ovaries in the animals. Jim 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, The Consumer Nutrition Institute (CNI), Turner and Olney filed formal objections with the FDA They challenged the validity of some of the key aspartame safety tests which Searle submitted to the FDA, They presented animal studies by Olney and others that showed evidence that aspartame causes brain damage, brain tumors, seizures and changes in brain chemistry. Turner and Olney were especially concerned about the new sweetener's potential effects on pregnant women and young children.
In April 1975, the FDA set up a hearing, 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 and no rumors in the control rats.
Olney was even more concerned when he reviewed a long-term study of baby monkeys, whom 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 astounded when Searle 'S scientists claimed that these monkey studies proved aspartame's safety because only the monkeys who received high doses of aspartame had seizures.' The monkeys that got low doses did not get seizures. therefore - the company argued aid the FDA agreed - aspartame was safe.
Although the monkeys' seizures were dosage related. Turner and Olney
were worried that when children used NutraSweet products there was no way
to control how much NutraSweet they ingested. Since Searle had not tested
aspartame on humans. safe dosage data for children was not available. Turner
and Olney insisted that if children ate too many products containing NutraSweet.
they could easily cross the threshold that would trigger seizures.
Atlanta, Georgia, November 1984, (146 pages)
The following facts and figures were taken from Evaluation of Consumer Complaints Related to Aspartame Use presented to the Division of Nutrition in November, 1984
The CDC reviewed 231 cases of 592 aspartame complaints and found:
Quote about side-effects from CDC report:
Page 3. "The sponsor, G.D. Searle and Company, concluded a series of animal and clinical tests including studies specifically designed to assess the safety of the DKP breakdown product. A number of studies that have been reported examine the biological and biochemical effects of aspartame in humans. Relatively few of these studies were directed at examining side effects or associated symptoms among people given large or even routine amounts in controlled situations."
For further information, see Mullarkey's book, Bittersweet Aspartame, A Diet Delusion,
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