> Regarding the Aspartame story that keeps popping up: WORLD
> ENVIRONMENTAL CONFERENCE and the MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS FOUNDATION IS
> SUING F.D.A. FOR COLLUSION WITH MONSANTO Article written by Nancy
> Markle (1120197).
> Please refer to an excellent website at
This Urban Legends article summarizes the Nancy Markle/Betty Martini
complaints about aspartame and offers links to on-line resources. I
am assuming it is authored by David Emery, founder of U.L., though
there is no by-line, and I could be wrong about that. (But then why
expect attribution of authorship in an article debunking what the
writer calls "scarelore"?) Anyway, the article comments:
> Far be it from me to insist that the FDA is infallible and
> incorruptible, but I would point out that the agency has common
> sense and years of accumulated research on its side when it
> maintains that the sweetener is safe for most people. As to
> aspartame's critics, it doesn't help their cause that the
> information presented in the email is disorganized, hysterical, and
> poorly substantiated.
[commenting on symptoms that Martini says people have reported:]
> That's a dizzying array of charges - to which it's perfectly
> reasonable to respond: if it's provable that aspartame causes all of
> these serious health problems, why isn't the entire medical
> establishment up in arms about it? Why does the substance continue
> to have the FDA's approval?
> Can the anti-aspartame forces prove the results were tainted?
Apart from this touching faith in the medical establishment (which
took a fat waddling lapdog's age to acknowledge the health effects of
tobacco, for instance) and the regulatory establishment (with its
revolving-door relationship with the industries it regulates), the
writer's understanding of the larger issues here strikes me as a tad
Therefore the writer isn't likely to understand what's behind the
citizen concerns--however "inadequately" they're expressed, citizens
*are* picking up on these larger issues of policy, proof,
epistemology, and public health. They may lack degreed discourse or
research budgets, and they may reason rather sloppily at times. But
anybody who reads citizen discourse for scientific content might as
well read Kenneth Starr or George Will for that, as well.
As for those larger issues, I encourage you SANETters to read the
Urban Legends aspartame article and then compare it with the
Brewster Kneen piece that Rebecca Kneen posted earlier this very
same afternoon, where he observed:
> The rule change that industry wants, and which it is quietly
> getting, is a radical redefinition of 'burden of proof'. Instead of
> the manufacturer having to prove to the public authorities that
> their product is safe, it is rapidly becoming the rule that it is
> the responsibility of the regulator to prove that a product is
> harmful in order to deny approval or licensing. Harm, however, is
> much more difficult to actually prove, in the current ideology of
> 'science', than no harm. For example, the manufacturers of rBGH
> and their scientists, such as Dale Bauman at Cornell, simply
> pointed to the absence of "catastrophic effects" on the health of
> cows as proof of the drug's safety. Similarly, there are any
> number of agricultural chemicals that cannot be clinically proven
> to be specifically harmful but for which anecdotal evidence
> indicates a level of probable harm that is quite unacceptable, as
> with endocrine disruptors.
> For the manufacturer of genetically altered foods, the reversal of
> the burden of proof from having to prove safety to demonstrating
> the absence of harm also makes it possible to transfer liability
> from itself or its agents to the regulatory agency. If the
> regulatory agency does not find the g.e. food harmful or unsafe --
> which might mean the impossible task of identifying previously
> unidentified and unknown allergens or toxins -- then a person
> affected by eating the food in question cannot hold the
> manufacturer liable. This will protect corporate profits, but not
> public health.
You all can do your own noshings on these two pieces; I just wanted
to raise the issue here. It was rather...uncanny...to have both these
pieces in the same day's mail.
I've been watching the aspartame issue since its inception in the
80s. It parallels in my mind other consumer/citizen efforts to
highlight and publicize observed health effects of substances that
researchers insist cause no harm. So it interests me as a
communications topic, and I've watched it in that way. In fact, a few
weeks ago I drafted a piece on this to you all...then stuck it away.
For now, I just want to say this.
Greg, the Urban Legends writer has already decided that the e-mail
campaign on aspartame effects is "scarelore," so presents the issue
as a tale of the paranoid, ranting assertions of Hysterical,
Conspiracy-Minded Women vs. the accumulated evidence of Cool
Rational Science/Regulatory Oversight. (He even invokes MEDLINE as
the authoritative source--as though appearance of evidence in that
medium is conclusive in all realms of fact or observation.)
Just the kind of deep-probing and far-ranging conceptual power we
need applied to analysis of food systems and food safety issues, yo?
Allow me to submit that the Urban Legends writer is passing along his
own version of an urban legend: the Hysterical Female whose
irrational observations plague Henpecked Scientists and Regulators.
One need only set up the two sides in mythic battle and say, "Lo!
Dear Reader! Behold! And decide for yourself!" Provide enough fuel
(quotes, links, stage-direction) to get the sizz sizzling. Then
withdraw...and wait for people to forward the content all over
creation, like the Forest Fire Scuba Diver or the Nieman Marcus
Cookie Recipe or the Good Times E-Mail Virus.
And thus in my humble opinion the Urban Legends writer's reaction to
the aspartame issue qualifies as a potential contribution to urban
legend itself. It doesn't shed a cat's midnight-fur-spark worth of
light on the larger issue of food safety, regulation of new
products, industry response to reported health issues among consumers
of a new product, or the evolution of food safety policy that puts
the burden of proof--and risk--on consumers.
As for the Urban Legends founder, David Emery, here is his bio at the
UL Web site:
> David Emery is a freelance writer and an avid chronicler of urban
> folklore, with special emphasis on the lore and folklife of the
> Experience: Mr. Emery's professional credits include stints as
> creative consultant for the hit stage show All Grown Up and No
> Place to Go and as a staff writer for the CBS-TV comedy series
> Life...and Stuff. He established himself as an arch commentator on
> the outer limits of Net culture with Iron Skillet Magazine, "a
> compendium of offbeat views run through the blender of the author's
> savage sense of humor [with] on-target skewerings of strange ideas"
> (Houston Chronicle). He has been collecting and writing about
> contemporary folklore on the Internet since 1997.
> Education: Mr. Emery received a B.A. in philosophy from Portland
> State University, followed by graduate studies in philosophy and
> classics at the University of Texas at Austin.
I'd say he's probably as qualified as anyone to debunk Hook Man, the
shivering Chihuahua, the microwaved cat, the choking Doberman, and
the black widows in the B-52. I don't know that he's the author of
the aspartame piece, but if he is, my guess is that food safety and
food system analysis could strand him a wee bit out of his depths,
conceptually. And we might pause before passing that along to others.
By the way, Hook Man is real. I went to high school with some folks
who knew somebody whose sister babysat for a girl whose big sister
and her boyfriend saw him on Beaver Valley Rd. Really.
Sifting and winnowing by the shores of beautiful Lake Mendota, I wish
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
There is something fascinating about science.
One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture
out of such trifling investment of fact.
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