The story begins with the rise of aspartame studies just after cyclamate was banned and pulled from the U.S. market.6 Saccharin was under serious scrutiny, and the disappearance of cyclamate had left a void it appeared saccharin might not be poised to fill. The “diet” market at the time was a $1 billion-per-year business in the U.S.,7 and manufacturers of diet products were in a mad scramble to find a substitute that would ensure they left not a dollar of that billion on the table.
Aspartame seemed like the magic bullet to fill the bill. But first Searle had to get it through the FDA.
Initially, the FDA strongly denied the approval of aspartame products. In his book, “Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills,” board-certified neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock discusses the disturbing facts about aspartame that concerned the FDA.8 In short, the reasons the FDA review board gave for ruling against aspartame were sound and included:
So, at the time, it appeared this was not going to be the sugar substitute the market wanted. But industry was not about to take no for an answer.
FDA Commissioner Overrules the Board’s Concerns—and Goes to Work Promoting Searle
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) admitted in 1999 that “the agency experienced special difficulties in reviewing the artificial sweetener,” and predicted that the FDA would continue to have these difficulties in the future, as more food-use substances are created. Summarizing these so-called “difficulties” at a forum on how the FDA makes its decisions, the IOM explained that the three member Public Board of Inquiry had voted against aspartame because of “unresolved questions about brain tumors found during (Searle’s) rodent studies.” But FDA Commissioner Arthur H. Hayes 9overruled the board’s objections and granted aspartame its ticket to market in spite of their concerns.
Two years later, Hayes left the FDA, and while serving as dean of New York Medical College, was hired by Searle’s public relations firm, Burston Marsteller, as a paid consultant making $1,000 a day.10