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Rummy, Aspartame & Swine Flu

Anthony Wile | November 16 2005

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is not only a force in launching the controversial flu remedy Tamiflu, he is also behind the release of the increasingly criticized sweetener aspartame. In fact, he’s mentioned in a $350 million class action lawsuit filed by US consumer group the National Justice League. According to a September 2005 Ecologist Magazine cover story, “Aspartame - the shocking story of the world's bestselling sweetener” by health writer Pat Thomas, The Ramizzini Institute in Bologna, a non-profit, private research institution, recently released “the results of a very large, long-term animal study into aspartame ingestion. Its study shows that aspartame causes lymphomas and leukaemia in female animals fed aspartame at doses around 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, or around half the accepted daily intake for humans.” Health problems linked to aspartame reportedly include arthritis, brain cancer, memory loss, hearing loss, hypertension, abdominal pain, headache and migraines.

How did Rumsfeld, better known these days for the windfall he has reaped from the sudden popularity of the antiviral Tamiflu, get mixed up with aspartame? It happened when he became the chief executive officer of a worldwide pharmaceutical G.D. Searle & Company in 1977, some 12 years after aspartame’s discovery by G.D. Searle chemist James Schlatter. A story by Rishi Mehta, associate commentary editor for the University of Connecticut Daily Campus newspaper, points out the following: “In 1981, after over 15 years of FDA disapproval of aspartame, Rumsfeld said in a Searle sales meeting that he would use ‘political rather than scientific means’ to finally get FDA approval. Only 20 days later, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as 40th President of the United States, appointing Rumfeld as Special Envoy to the Middle East and Arthur Hayes Hull Jr. - a friend of Rumsfeld's - to FDA commissioner."

The article adds, “Within one day, Rumsfeld and Searle reapplied to Hull's FDA for approval of aspartame. A few months later Hayes appointed a five-member committee to review whether or not aspartame should be approved. When it became apparent there would be a 3-2 decision against approval of the substance, Hull appointed a sixth person. Once the vote became deadlocked, Hayes took it upon himself to make the tie-breaking vote, allowing aspartame to receive FDA approval. Only three months later, Hayes resigned under controversy only to shortly thereafter take a senior position with Burston-Marsteller - a company which was the public relations firm for Rumsfeld's Searle.”

One of the many problems with such apparent cronyism is that it taints any government proposal having to do with health care or emergency health powers. This is no hypothetical concern either. Late in October 2005 the "Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2005"(S. 1873) was introduced in the Senate to “prepare and strengthen the biodefenses of the United States against deliberate, accidental, and natural outbreaks of illness, and for other purposes.” It establishes the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA), as the focal point of a secret effort to develop vaccines and other medical countermeasures, exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) has called "a drug company stockholder's dream and a consumer's worst nightmare." According to Canadian-based Global Research, “The proposed legislation will strip Americans of the right to a trial by jury if harmed by an experimental or licensed drug or vaccine that they are forced by government to take, whenever federal health officials declare a public health emergency."

While Rumsfeld is not directly involved in the legislation, it contains many of the defects associated with Rumsfeld’s conflation of private and public spheres as regards health care. This iteration, perhaps the most radical yet, allows large pharmaceutical to operate in secret with government researchers using “biodefense” research funds to develop what may be questionable treatments for which they will not be liable. Left alone, the private sector would develop branding and testing agencies – and these entities would be on guard against corruption which could sink their businesses. But by commingling private health care initiatives with secret, emergency biodefense developments, the government is making it impossible to apply the competitive benefits of the marketplace or scientific transparency. It is a recipe for the development of flawed treatment regimes that may offer tragic consequences.

For precedent, ironically, it is not necessary to look any further than Rumsfeld himself and his role in the little remembered 1970’s medical debacle of Swine Flu. According to Lisa Parsons in a review of "Crab Wars: A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Bioterrorism, and Human Health," by William Sargent, 2002, University Press of New England: “The Rumsfeld [connection to Swine Flu] starts in 1976, when a military recruit in New Jersey died from a flu that experts speculated might be the ‘swine flu’ virus of 1918 pandemic fame. As Sargent tells it, Rumsfeld, who was then and is again the nation's secretary of defense, made the imminent ‘swine flu’ a political issue to add some spark to the campaign of President Ford, an interim leader without a cause. At Rumsfeld's urging, the administration would ensure that "every man, woman and child" was vaccinated. Huge amounts of vaccine were produced and distributed quickly."

Parsons adds, “Some batches were contaminated. This was in the days before lysate. Six hundred people sickened and 52 died. The program was stopped a month after the election. And nobody got swine flu. ‘It was,’ writes Sargent, ‘modern medicine's most flagrant miscalculation.’ Parsons also mentions Sargent’s linkage between the '76 swine flu scare and the more current discussion about a smallpox vaccine. “‘How will the United States protect itself against bioterrorism?’ [Sargent] asks. ‘The Department of Defense proposes … 40 million new doses of smallpox vaccine.’ Sargent is concerned about the possibility of bacterial contamination in vaccines that are rushed to market, and suggests that such contamination might have been behind adverse reactions to the vaccine in the past. ‘[Rumsfeld] is one of the architects of the present campaign.’”

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola at the Alliance for Human Research Protection, observers of the Swine Flu debacle had far stronger comments than Sargent's, as follows: “Ida Honorof [called it], ‘the most brazen, obscene electioneering ploy’ ever … proposed by the President 'and his coterie of scientific hacks, fabricated to cause pure unadulterated panic and guarantee political capital, rammed through without consideration of people's health and lives and approved by a band-wagon Congress’ eager to make the nation's ‘health’ a bipartisan concern.”

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