Letter to the Editor | On Aspartame and MSG: FDA again serving as instrument of corporate interests

December 3, 2013

Aspartame, an artifical sweetener, is used in many food and beverage products. (Wikimedia Commons)

Aspartame, an artifical sweetener, is used in many food and beverage products. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is in response to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory declaring categorically that the artificial sweeteners Aspartame and Monosodium glutamate (MSG) are safe. The FDA’s apparent justification is that  the WHO/FAO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) had approved the inclusion of aspartame and MSG in the Codex General Standards for Food Additives (GSTAN) 1992-1995 and that these additives are being used globally.

The FDA is again showing its gross ignorance of real science and is despicably acting as an instrument of corporate interests, as it has repeatedly demonstrated in the past. Just as the FDA has become the mouthpiece of Monsanto and Syngenta in promoting genetically modified food, it now promotes Monsanto’s profit-maker aspartame as safe when in fact it is harmful.

Aspartame and MSG are well-established by independent scientific studies as brain toxicants. They are called “excitotoxins”, a term popularized by Dr. John Olney,  a well-respected neuroscientist who demonstrated the neurotoxicity of MSG, aspartame and other excitotoxic amino acids commonly used as food additives.  These excitotoxins have the ability to penetrate the brain and excite or destroy brain cells.  There is in fact an enormous amount of both clinical and experimental evidence that has accumulated over the past years showing various adverse effects of aspartame and MSG, including,  migraine, seizures, abnormal neural development, certain endocrine disorders, neuropsychiatric disorders, learning disorders in children, dementia, episodic violence, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and abnormal involuntary movements, among others. Recent studies studies on aspartame in animals suggested an increased risk of lymphomas, leukemias, and cancer of the pelvis, ureter, and bladder in a dose-dependent manner within ranges that are considered to be safe for human consumption. Additionally, significant brain damage (corroborating earlier findings) and malignant brain tumors were also observed.

The  WHO/FAO JECFA evaluation and approval of aspartame and MSG cannot be relied upon as a basis for the conclusion of safety. Apart from being outdated, the JECFA evaluation considered only the data submitted by the manufacturer. JECFA did not even examine the numerous independent studies available at the time of their evaluation showing contrary results to the industry submitted studies which expectedly found no adverse effects. For example, a review of studies on aspartame in the peer reviewed medical literature showed that 100% of the industry funded studies attested to aspartame’s safety, whereas 92% of the independently funded research identified a problem. Industry studies submitted and accepted by JECFA included many studies of unknown authorship and studies of questionable validity and relevance, with multiple instances of the same study being cited up to 6 times.

This recent advisory from the government’s FDA again illustrates how government instrumentalities that are supposed to protect people’s health and well-being are being used to advance corporate interest. Government policies guided by WHO and FAO have proven to be more effective at protecting vested interests than in protecting health and the environment. The reality is that corporate interests and political expediency are the dominant considerations influencing regulatory decisions where socio-political circumstances are conducive for powerful chemical companies to exert influence and manipulate public policy.  Decisions that tend to protect health and environment are allowed only in so far as these do not threaten significantly the dominant economic interests or only when strong public pressure is exerted on government.  Even intergovernmental bodies are not immune to corporate influence as technical committees are packed with corporate scientists or scientists under their influence.


Romeo F. Quijano, M.D.

Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

College of Medicine University of The Philippines Manila