ARTICLES
Environmental Improvement Board: Petition to outlaw aspartame snubbed


By Diana Heil, The Santa Fe New Mexican
July 7, 2006

To some, Santa Fe gallery owner Stephen Fox would have been a hero if he succeeded in getting all foods and medicines containing aspartame banned permanently from New Mexico.

Given the corporate heavyweights that came out to fight this battle, including beverage companies and the sweetener's manufacturer, Fox would have accomplished quite a feat.

Sold under the brand names of NutraSweet and Equal, aspartame was approved as a food additive in 1981 and is found in thousands of products, including diet sodas. Naysayers across the nation, with a strong presence on the Internet, call it a poison that can harm human health.

On Thursday, the state Environmental Improvement Board unanimously shot down Fox's petition to outlaw aspartame. "In light of our attorney's advice and as the petition is currently written, a citizens board is not the appropriate venue to take on an aspartame ban," said Gay Dillingham, head of the seven-member board.
Dr. Ken Stoller, a Santa Fe pediatrician, lamented the outcome: "Today, the EIB, succumbing to pressure from Ajinomoto (the world's largest aspartame manufacturer), decided not to hold a hearing on aspartame even though they had twice previously voted to hold this hearing. ... The poisoning continues."

Earlier this year, Fox tried to convince state lawmakers to prohibit the sale of aspartame products indefinitely, but the bill was tabled.

Now, Dillingham said, Fox still has the right to revise his petition and try again with the Environmental Improvement Board.

"I'm not going to repetition the EIB. The first petition was perfect," Fox said. "The (corporations) abnegated the regulatory powers in New Mexico to protect food products. What a loss for New Mexico."

In May, the board offered Fox the opportunity to change the way he wrote his petition and outlined options that would not require statewide labeling or bans, but Fox refused.

One option would have been for the EIB to hold hearings to review a reasonable amount of scientific evidence and then petition the U.S. Food and Drug Administration if the findings raised concerns.

In a tie vote Thursday, the EIB decided not to make public the attorney's letter that outlined the pros and cons of seven options, which had been summarized in an open meeting.

"There's really nothing that's not in the (May) meeting minutes," said Dillingham, who voted to make the attorney's letter public.

Fox took on the aspartame industry because of moral concerns: "I don't think that multinational corporate powers should be able to poison people."

Originally, the EIB had scheduled hearings on Fox's petition for this July. However, after gathering legal advice on whether states have the authority to override the FDA as well as interstate-commerce laws, the board took another approach.

"We are concerned about the issue," Dillingham said, noting that she personally is troubled when she sees signs that politics might be "eclipsing" science at the FDA.

More than 100 toxicological and clinical studies regarding the sweetener's safety have been conducted so far. The FDA is reviewing a recent controversial Italian study, which linked cancer in rats to aspartame. Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority found holes in the Italian study and continues to call aspartame safe.

Aspartame, one of five approved artificial sweeteners in the U.S., is widely consumed by diabetics and dieters. Ruth Kava, a nutritionist with the American Council on Science and Health, which receives corporate funding, said it's a good alternative to sugar for everyone except those with the genetic disorder phenylketonuriais a genetic disorder, which is characterized by an inability of the body to use an important amino acid.

"I don't understand why people are getting so fearful of products that really have no dangerous health effects whatsoever," she said in an interview Thursday.

Kava said consumers get confused by the methanol ingredient in aspartame, but must remember that only in large doses is methanol toxic. The amount of methanol in aspartame-sweetened foods and beverages is well below the levels that cause any harm, she co-wrote in a recent article reviewing all artificial sweeteners.

"Many people do not realize that methanol is a common constituent of foods and beverages and that people routinely consume small amounts of it without ill effect," the article in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety says. "Methanol is found in many fruits and vegetables."
 
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School Beverage Guidelines

Helping schools provide healthy settings for their students is a top priority for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program will recognize schools that currently foster healthy environments and assist schools who need help doing so. These guidelines were developed to serve as the beverage criteria for the Healthy Schools Program. They will accelerate the shift to lower-calorie and nutritious beverages that children consume during the regular and extended school day.

These guidelines have been adopted by the Nebraska Beverage Association, American Beverage Association, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Cadbury Schweppes as their new school beverage policy.

Beverages
Elementary School
• Bottled water
• Up to 8 ounce servings of milk and 100% juice**
• Low fat and non fat regular and flavored milk* with up to 150 calories / 8 ounces
• 100% juice** with no added sweeteners and up to 120 calories / 8 ounces

Middle School
• Same as elementary school, except juice and milk may be sold in 10 ounce servings***

High School
• Bottled water
• No or low calorie beverages with up to 10 calories / 8 ounces
• Up to 12 ounce servings of milk, 100% juice**, light juice and sports drinks
• Low fat and non fat regular and flavored milk with up to 150 calories / 8 ounces
• 100% juice** with no added sweeteners and up to 120 calories / 8 ounces
• Light juices and sports drinks with no more than 66 calories / 8 ounces
• At least 50% of beverages must be water and no or low calorie options

Time of Day
All beverages sold on school grounds during the regular and extended school day. The extended school day includes activities such as clubs, yearbook, band and choir practice, student government, drama, and childcare / latchkey programs.

This beverage Policy does not apply to school-related events; such as interscholastic sporting events, school plays, and band concerts; where parents and other adults constitute a significant portion of the audience or are selling beverages as boosters.
* Milk includes nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives (per USDA), such as soy milk.
** 100% juice that contains at least 10% of the recommended daily value for three or more vitamins and minerals.
*** As a practical matter, if middle school and high school students have shared access to areas on a common campus or in common buildings, then the school community has the option to adopt the high school standard.

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