Donald Kennedy, the editor-in-chief of Science, CESP senior fellow by courtesy, faculty member of Stanford University, and former head of the FDA, wrote an email in 2013 that showed up in WikiLeaks’ Podesta files. Kennedy didn’t email Podesta directly, but rather emailed Wendy Abrams, the founder of Cool Globes, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of climate change. In 2015, Abrams forwarded the conversation to John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to the leaked file.
Donald Rumsfeld is an American politician and businessman, and according to multiple sources, including the Huffington Post, a prominent player in the approval of Nutrasweet, the controversial artificial sweetener made from aspartame. The Huffington Post covered the scandalous story of Donald Rumsfeld and aspartame in 2011.
“In 1985, Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle, the chemical company that held the patent to aspartame, the active ingredient in NutraSweet. Monsanto was apparently untroubled by aspartame’s clouded past, including the report of a 1980 FDA Board of Inquiry, comprised of three independent scientists, which confirmed that it ‘might induce brain tumors.’ The FDA had previously banned aspartame based on this finding, only to have then-Searle Chairman Donald Rumsfeld vow to ‘call in his markers,’ to get it approved.”
The Huffington Post reported that when Searle was absorbed by Monsanto in the mid-1980s, Rumsfeld received a $12 million bonus.
“Here was the article you sent me a while ago regarding Nutrasweet and how it came to market under questionable (at best) circumstances. The current proposal from the Dairy lobby is to put Nutrasweet in the chocolate milk we serve to school children. Needless to say, I think we should stop this proposal from moving forward.”
Abrams told Kennedy that University of Chicago researchers gave Nutrasweet to lab mice and “it literally blew holes in their brains.” Abrams was concerned, because the plan to add Nutrasweet to chocolate milk marketed to school children included plans to not label it prominently “because kids don’t like to drink something that is labeled low cal.”
At the time, the FDA explained the situation.
“If we granted the petition, a carton of chocolate milk made with non-nutritive sweeteners would simply say ‘chocolate milk,’ the same as a carton made with nutritive sweeteners, such as sugar,” Felicia Billingslea, the director of FDA’s Food Labeling and Standards staff, explained, according to the FDA’s website. “You would need to read the ingredient list, which is typically on the back or the side of the product, in order to tell the difference between the two.”
An FDA spokesperson reportedly told a journalist at Food Identity Theft that the agency received almost 45,000 comments in relation to a petition about plans to add Nutrasweet inconspicuously to children’s chocolate milk. NPR reported in March of 2013 that over 90,000 people joined an online petition organized by SumOfUs.org, and that number grew even higher after the report.
According to the American Cancer Society, the Acceptable Daily Intake for aspartame is about 100 times less than the smallest amount that health concerns, based on studies done in lab animals, is flagged at. The food industry says that Nutrasweet is safe in the amounts that people actually consume.
Abrams asked Kennedy who she could contact that might be able to influence whether or not the plans to hide Nutrasweet from the children drinking it went through.
“God forbid they give the kids white milk.. or water to drink. I guess there’s not enough power in the water lobby. (Don Rumsfeld was the guy running Searle when they got Nutrasweet approved by FDA… which may explain it.) any thoughts on reaching FDA? I believe they are having a public comment period from now until May.. not sure how that works or who to talk to that is truly influential, but I think it is a big deal.”
Kennedy told Abrams that he had been interested in sweeteners since his early days at the FDA when the artificial sweetener concern was that saccharin was causing bladder cancer in male rats.
“After years of debate and Congressional interest it turned out that rats were not an appropriate model for that problem. A little later, still during my time as Commissioner I was called on by Don Rumsfeld, who introduced himself as the CEO of Searle; I got the director of the new drug approval center in the meeting and we told him that we would look carefully at the evidence and rely on our expert committee structure as usual. Aspartame continued to attract concerned critics, and we at FDA saw no resumption of Searle’s effort to get it approved. I looked up one piece on that history, which I append below. Not a very nice story.”
Kennedy told Abrams that he knew the commissioner at the time, Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Hamburg, pretty well and wrote, “I will try to see what I can do on this one.”
Kennedy served as chief of the FDA for two years decades ago, before resigning unexpectedly in 1979. In his resignation letter, Kennedy said that his resignation was triggered by a job offer for provost and vice president for academic affairs at Stanford. Kennedy was appointed as the chief of the FDA under President Carter. According to an archived write-up from the journal Chemical & Engineering News, Kennedy was a public protector right from the start. Kennedy had actually backed efforts to ban saccharin.
Kennedy told Abrams, “Rumsfeld has a lot to answer for in his next life.”