Thursday, September 08, 2005

Want to hear something scary?

Many of us know that Rummy was once president of the Searle Corporation and once upon a time, Searle had a product that tasted sweet and was called Aspartame. Because they wanted to bring sweetness to the world, they needed to get FDA approval. The problem was that the FDA had conducted tests that showed an unacceptable level of problems in animal testing; problems like brain tumors.

In fact Aspartame had been discovered accidentally when a researcher back in 1965 got some new ulcer drug on his fingers and found that it was finger lickin’ good. Of course years of testing are required and although tests showed that aspartame produced microscopic holes and tumors in the brains of experimental mice, epileptic seizures in monkeys, and was converted by animals into dangerous substances, including formaldehyde, the possibility of profit was huge.

Of course the FDA being what it is approved it anyway as a dry food additive in 1974. The test results however were public and when other researchers saw the results, the FDA had to ask Searle to refrain from selling it until a public board of inquiry ran more tests. Preparatory to this, the FDA got around to inspecting Searle’s labs in Skokie Illinois and found an alarming level of shoddy procedures and testing that raised questions about the safety of its products. The possibility of criminal liability was raised. The FDA asked the US attorney for Chicago to begin a Grand Jury review.

Good thing for Searle it was Chicago. The U.S. attorney let the statue of limitations run out, then (along with two aides) proceeded to join Searle's law firm. To condense the narrative a bit, in 1980, the FDA after much deliberation decided none the less to block marketing of Aspartame.

Then came the Reagan Renaissance. Donald Rumsfeld (former congressman from Skokie, former White House chief of staff, former secretary of defense and since January 1977 president of Searle) joined the Reagan transition team. In January 1981 Rumsfeld told a sales meeting, according to one attendee, that he would call in his chips and get aspartame approved by the end of the year. On January 25th, the day the new president took office, the previous FDA commissioner's authority was suspended, and the next month, the commissioner's job went to Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes. In July Hayes, defying FDA advisors, approved aspartame for dry foods -- his first major decision and his last decision. Soon thereafter, Hayes, having been caught taking bribes quit and was given a job at Searle. The product name was changed to NutraSweet in order to make it sound like it was good for you and the company was sold to Monsanto. Rumsfeld pocketed a $12,000,000 bonus.

According to data released in 1995, human brain tumors like those in the animal studies rose 10% and previously benign tumors turned virulent. Searle and FDA's deputy commissioner said the data posed no problem. Two years later this same FDA official became vice president of clinical research for Searle. Out of some 400 studies on brain tumors and Aspartame, only those paid for by Searle showed no significant problems.

So where’s the scary part of the story? Don Rumsfeld sold us a war and never told us about the side effects.


d.K. said...

I had never heard any of this. My naive, insular little world is literally crumbling around me. It's hard for me to believe things like this happen in America. Whenever I hear of conspiracy theories, I always say that "the government is too inept to pull anything off like that." Now I wonder.

Capt. Fogg said...

There are worse stories about the Bush family, but I can only deal with som much of this at a time.

Anonymous said...

Jesus! I guess I was like DK - always thought that incompetence trumped conspiracy....but hell, this is nuts!

Capt. Fogg said...

What's nuts is that Americans don't care. All the information is out there, but we've either been trained to dismiss it as "Liberal" or we secretly identify with the crooks and hope to become one of them.

Didja hear the one about Prescott Bush and Hitler?

Crankyboy said...

Can I be president of Searle for a bit?

Capt. Fogg said...

You can't get to the top without paying your dues - you have to spend years torturing small animals and stealing lunch money from kids.