Aspartame Timeline

December 1965 – James Schlater, a chemist at G.D. Searle, discovers aspartame.

Spring 1967 – Necessary safety tests vying approval by the FDA resume.

Fall 1967 – Biochemist Dr. Harold Waisman conducts aspartame safety tests on infant monkeys on behalf of Searle. Seven monkeys are fed aspartame mixed with milk, one dies and five have grand mall seizures.

November 1970 – Cyclamate, the reigning low-calorie sweetener is pulled off the market after being associated with cancer. Saccharin’s safety is questioned, leaving the field open for aspartame.

Spring 1971 – Neuroscientist John Olney informs Searle that his studies show that aspartic acid caused holes in the brains of infant mice. One of Searle’s own researchers confirmed Dr. Olney’s findings.

February 1973 – After tens of millions of dollars spent on safety tests, Searle applies for FDA approval, submitting over 100 studies they claim support aspartame’s safety.

March 5, 1973 – One of the first FDA scientists to review aspartame safety data says that the information provided by Searle is inadequate to permit an evaluation of the potential toxicity of aspartame. She says further clinical tests are needed.

May 1974 – Attorney Jim Turner (consumer advocate who was instrumental in getting cyclamate off the market) meets with Searle to discuss Dr. Olney’s 1971 study.

July 26, 1974 – The FDA grants aspartame its first approval for restricted use in dry foods.

August 1974 – Jim Turner file first objections against aspartame’s approval.

March 24, 1976 – Turner and Olney’s petition triggers an FDA investigation of the laboratory practices of Searle. Investigators report manipulation of data, and that they have never seen anything as bad as Searle’s testing.

Jan. 10, 1977 – The FDA requests the U.S. Attorney’s office to begin grand jury proceedings to investigate whether indictments should be filed against Searle for knowingly misrepresenting findings, concealing facts, and making false statements.

Jan. 26, 1977 – Sidley and Austin, the law firm representing Searle, begins job negotiations with the U.S. Attorney in charge of the investigation, Samuel Skinner.

March 8, 1977 – Searle hires Donald Rumsfeld as a CEO to try to turn the beleaguered company around. A former member of Congress and Secretary of Defense in the Ford Administration, Rumsfeld brings in several of his Washington cronies as top management.

July 1, 1977 – Samuel Skinner leaves the U.S. Attorney’s office and takes a job with Sidley and Austin, Searle’s law firm.

Aug. 1, 1977 – The Bressler Report, compiled by FDA investigators and headed by Jerome Bressler, is released. The reports finds that 98 of the 196 animals died during one of Searle’s studies and weren’t autopsied until later dates, in some cases over one year after their deaths. Among some inconsistencies, a rat was reported alive, then dead, then alive and then dead again.

June 1, 1979 – The FDA established a Public Board of Inquiry to rule on safety issues.

Sep. 30, 1980 – The Public Board of Inquiry concludes NutraSweet (aspartame brand-name) should not be approved pending further investigations of brain tumors in animals.

January 1981 – Rumsfeld says in a sales meeting he will use his political pull in Washington, rather than scientific means, to make sure aspartame gets approved within the year.

March 1981 – Ronald Reagan is sworn in as the U.S. president. Reagan’s team, which includes Rumsfeld, picks Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes Jr., to be the new FDA commissioner.

March 1981 – An FDA commissioner’s panel is established to review issues raised by the Public Board of Inquiry.

May 19, 1981 – Three of six in-house FDA scientists who were responsible for reviewing the brain tumor tissues advise against approval of NutraSweet, stating Searle’s tests were unreliable.

July 15, 1981 – Hayes overrules the Public Board of Inquiry, ignores the recommendation of his own internal team, and approves NutraSweet for dry products. Hayes says aspartame is safe for its proposed use.

Oct. 15, 1982 – The FDA announces Searle has filed petition for approval of aspartame as a sweetener in carbonated drinks and other liquids.

July 1, 1983 – The National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) urges the FDA to delay approval of aspartame for carbonated beverages pending further testing because the sweetener is unstable in liquid form.

July 8, 1983 – NSDA drafts an objection to the final ruling which permits the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages and syrups, and requests a hearing, saying Searle has not provided enough safety and responsible information on aspartame.

Aug. 8 1983 – Turner and Dr. Woodrow Monte file suit with the FDA, objecting to aspartame approval under unresolved safety issues.

September 1983 – Hayes resigns under controversy about his taking unauthorized rides aboard a General Foods (a major customer of NutraSweet) airplane. Burson-Marsteller, Searle’s public relations firm immediately hires Hayes as its senior scientific consultant.

Fall 1983 – First carbonated beverages containing aspartame reach the market.

November 1984 – Center for Disease Control publishes its “Evaluation of consumer complaints related to aspartame use.”

1993 – The FDA approves expanded uses for aspartame to include foods that are always heated above 86 degrees Farenheit.




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