Organic Consumers Association

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Health Experts Renew Call to Ban Aspartame

Aspartame, the artificial sweetener used around the world, causes cancer in lab rats, and should be banned for human consumption, says Samuel S. Epstein, MD, professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine at the Chicago School of Public Health, University of Illinois, and chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition.

Epstein warns that the use of aspartame in foods, vitamins and pharmaceuticals is based on false safety information and political interference going back to the Reagan administration.

First approved by the FDA in 1974, the approval was rescinded after two studies found that aspartame caused brain tumors in laboratory animals. It was approved again in 1981, the same year the FDA banned stevia, a natural sweeter, as unsafe.

In January 1976, then FDA Commissioner Alexander M. Schmidt, MD, testified before Congress that Hazleton Laboratories, under contract to Searle, had been charged with falsifying toxicological data on aspartame.

The FDA convened a Public Board of Inquiry to review concerns about the sweetener's carcinogenic effects in experimental animals. In 1980, the board unanimously concluded that aspartame could "contribute to the development brain tumors" and should not be approved pending further study.

But then, according to the coalition, the day after Ronald Reagan's inauguration in January 1981, Searle re-applied to the FDA for approval to use aspartame as a food sweetener, and Reagan's new FDA commissioner, Arthur Hayes Hull, Jr., MD, appointed a commission to review the Board of Inquiry's decision.  The newly appointed Hull overruled the unanimous recommendation of the FDA's board of inquiry, paving the way for re-approval of aspartame.

Hull left the FDA amid charges of improper billing for travel expenses and joined Burston-Marsteller, the public relations firm of Searle and Monsanto, which purchased Searle in 1985.

The coalition is calling upon Hamburg, the new FDA commissioner, to ban the use of aspartame using provisions of the 1958 Delaney Amendment, which requires an automatic ban on carcinogenic food additives.

Since the initial controversy, numerous studies in the United States and in Europe have found conflicting evidence supporting and negating the carcinogenic qualities of aspartame.

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