1901: Monsanto was founded in St. Louis, Missouri by John Francis Queeny, a 30-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry. Queeny funded the start-up with capital from Coca-Cola (saccharin). Founder John Francis Queeny named Monsanto Chemical Works after his wife, Olga Mendez Monsanto. Queeny's father in law was Emmanuel Mendes de Monsanto, wealthy financier of a sugar company active in Vieques, Puerto Rico and based in St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies.
1902: The company manufactures its first product, the artificial sweetener Saccharin, which Monsanto sold to the Coca-Cola Company. The U.S. government later files suit over the safety of Saccharin - but loses.
1905: John Queeny's company was also producing caffeine and vanillin and was beginning to turn a profit.
1919: Monsanto established its presence in Europe by entering into a partnership with Graesser's Chemical Works at Cefn Mawr near Ruabon, Wales to produce vanillin, salicylic acid, aspirin and later rubber.
1967: Searle began the safety tests on aspartame that were necessary for applying for FDA approval of food additives. Dr. Harold Waisman, a biochemist at the University of Wisconsin, conducts aspartame safety tests on infant monkeys on behalf of the Searle Company. Of the 7 monkeys that were being fed aspartame mixed with milk, 1 monkey DIED and 5 other monkeys had grand mal seizures.
1970: Cyclamate (the reigning low-calorie artificial sweetener) is pulled off the market in November after some scientists associate it with cancer. Questions are also raised about safety of saccharin, the only other artificial sweetener on the market, leaving the field wide open for aspartame.
December 18, 1970: Searle Company executives lay out a "Food and Drug Sweetener Strategy" that they feel will put the FDA into a positive frame of mind about aspartame. An internal policy memo describes psychological tactics the company should use to bring the FDA into a subconscious spirit of participation" with them on aspartame and get FDA regulators into the "habit of saying Yes."
1971: Neuroscientist Dr. John Olney (whose pioneering work with monosodium glutamate MSG was responsible for having it removed from baby foods) informs Searle that his studies show that aspartic acid (one of the ingredients of aspartame) caused holes in the brains of infant mice. One of Searle's own researchers confirmed Dr. Olney's findings in a similar study.
1973: After spending tens of millions of dollars conducting safety tests, the G.D. Searle Company applies for FDA approval and submits over 100 studies they claim support aspartame's safety. One of the first FDA scientists to review the aspartame safety data states that "the information provided (by Searle) is inadequate to permit an evaluation of the potential toxicity of aspartame". She says in her report that in order to be certain that aspartame is safe, further clinical tests are needed.
1974: Attorney Jim Turner (consumer advocate who was instrumental in getting cyclamate taken off the market) meets with Searle representatives in May to discuss Dr. Olney's 1971 study which showed that aspartic acid caused holes in the brains of infant mice.
1974: The FDA grants aspartame its first approval for restricted use in dry foods on July 26.
1974: Jim Turner and Dr. John Olney file the first objections against aspartame's approval in August.
1976: Monsanto produces Cycle-Safe, the world's first plastic soft-drink bottle. The bottle, suspected of posing a cancer risk, is banned the following year by the Food and Drug Administration.
1976: Turner & Olney's petition on March 24 triggers an FDA investigation of the laboratory practices of aspartame's manufacturer, G.D. Searle. The investigation finds Searle's testing procedures shoddy, full of inaccuracies and "manipulated" test data. The investigators report they "had never seen anything as bad as Searle's testing."
January 10, 1977: The FDA formally 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 and "concealing material facts and making false statements" in aspartame safety tests. This is the first time in the FDA's history that they request a criminal investigation of a manufacturer.
January 26, 1977: While the grand jury probe is underway, Sidley & Austin, the law firm representing Searle, begins job negotiations with the U.S. Attorney in charge of the investigation, Samuel Skinner.
March 8, 1977: G. D. Searle hires prominent Washington insider Donald Rumsfeld as the new 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. Donald Rumsfeld followed Searle as CEO, and then as President of Searle from 1977-1985.
July 1, 1977: Samuel Skinner leaves the U.S. Attorney's office on July 1st and takes a job with Searle's law firm. (see Jan. 26th)
August 1, 1977: The Bressler Report, compiled by FDA investigators and headed by Jerome Bressler, is released. The report 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 death. Many other errors and inconsistencies are noted. For example, a rat was reported alive, then dead, then alive, then dead again; a mass, a uterine polyp, and ovarian neoplasms were found in animals but not reported or diagnosed in Searle's reports.
December 8, 1977: U.S. Attorney Skinner's withdrawal and resignation stalls the Searle grand jury investigation for so long that the statue of limitations on the aspartame charges runs out. The grand jury investigation is dropped. (borderline treason)
1979: The FDA established a Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) in June to rule on safety issues surrounding NutraSweet.
1980: September 30, FDA Board of Inquiry comprised of 3 independent scientists, confirmed that aspartame "might induce brain tumors". The Public Board of Inquiry concludes NutraSweet should not be approved pending further investigations of brain tumors in animals. The board states it "has NOT been presented with proof of reasonable certainty that aspartame is safe for use as a food additive." The FDA had actually banned aspartame based on this finding, only to have Searle Chairman Donald Rumsfeld (Ford's Secretary of Defense 1975-1977, Bush's Secretary of Defense 2001-2006) vow to "call in his markers," to get it approved in 1981.
January 1981: Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of Searle, states in a sales meeting that he is going to make a big push to get aspartame approved within the year. Rumsfeld says he will use his political pull in Washington, rather than scientific means, to make sure it gets approved.
May 19, 1981: 3 of 6 in-house FDA scientists who were responsible for reviewing the brain tumor issues, Dr. Robert Condon, Dr. Satya Dubey, and Dr. Douglas Park, advise against approval of NutraSweet, stating on the record that the Searle tests are unreliable and not adequate to determine the safety of aspartame.
1981: Ronald Reagan is sworn in as President of the United States. Reagan's transition team, which includes Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of G. D. Searle, hand picks Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. to be the new FDA Commissioner. On January 21, the day after Ronald Reagan's inauguration, GD Searle re-applied to the FDA for approval to use aspartame in food sweetener, and Reagan's new FDA commissioner, Arthur Hayes Hull, Jr., appointed a 5-person Scientific Commission to review the board of inquiry's decision. It soon became clear that the panel would uphold the ban by a 3-2 decision, but Hull then installed a 6th member on the commission, and the vote became deadlocked. He then personally broke the tie in aspartame's favor. Hull later left the FDA under allegations of impropriety, served briefly as Provost at New York Medical College, and then took a position with Burston-Marsteller, the chief public relations firm for both Monsanto and GD Searle. Since that time Hull has never spoken publicly about aspartame.
July 15, 1981: In one of his first official acts, Dr. Arthur Hayes Jr., the new FDA commissioner, overrules the Public Board of Inquiry, ignores the recommendations of his own internal FDA team and approves NutraSweet for dry products. Hayes says that aspartame has been shown to be safe for its' proposed uses and says few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated close scrutiny. G.D. Searle gets FDA approval for aspartame (NutraSweet). Monsanto completes its acquisition of Searle in 1985.
October 15, 1982: The FDA announces that GD Searle has filed a petition that aspartame be approved as a sweetener in carbonated beverages 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 aspartame is very unstable in liquid form. When liquid aspartame is stored in temperatures above 85°F degrees Fahrenheit, aspartame breaks down into known toxins Diketopiperazines (DKP), methyl (wood) alcohol, and formaldehyde.
July 8, 1983: The National Soft Drink Association drafts an objection to the final ruling which permits the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages and syrup bases and requests a hearing on the objections. The association says that Searle has not provided responsible certainty that aspartame and its' degradation products are safe for use in soft drinks.
August 8, 1983: Consumer Attorney, Jim Turner of the Community Nutrition Institute and Dr. Woodrow Monte, Arizona State University's Director of Food Science and Nutritional Laboratories, file suit with the FDA objecting to aspartame approval based on unresolved safety issues.
September, 1983: FDA Commissioner Hayes resigns under a cloud of controversy about his taking unauthorized rides aboard a General Foods jet. (General foods is a major customer of NutraSweet) Burson-Marsteller, Searle's public relation firm (which also represented several of NutraSweet's major users), immediately hires Hayes as senior scientific consultant.
Fall 1983: The first carbonated beverages containing aspartame are sold for public consumption.
1983: Diet Coke was sweetened with aspartame after the sweetener became available in the United States.
November 1984: Center for Disease Control (CDC) "Evaluation of consumer complaints related to aspartame use." (summary by B. Mullarkey)
1985: Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle, the chemical company that held the patent to aspartame, the active ingredient in NutraSweet. Monsanto was apparently untroubled by aspartame's clouded past, including a 1980 FDA Board of Inquiry, comprised of three independent scientists, which confirmed that it "might induce brain tumors". The aspartame business became a separate Monsanto subsidiary, the NutraSweet Company.
1986: Monsanto found guilty of negligently exposing a worker to benzene at its Chocolate Bayou Plant in Texas. It is forced to pay $100 million to the family of Wilbur Jack Skeen, a worker who died of leukemia after repeated exposures.
1986: At a congressional hearing, medical specialists denounce a National Cancer Institute study disputing that formaldehyde causes cancer. Monsanto and DuPont scientists helped with the study, whose author provided results to the Formaldehyde Institute industry representatives nearly six months before releasing the study to the EPA, labor unions, and the public.
November 3, 1987: U.S. hearing, "NutraSweet: Health and Safety Concerns," Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Senator Howard Metzenbaum, chairman.
1988: A federal jury finds Monsanto Co.'s subsidiary, G.D. Searle & Co., negligent in testing and marketing of its Copper 7 intrauterine birth control device (IUD). The verdict followed the unsealing of internal documents regarding safety concerns about the IUD, which was used by nearly 10 million women between 1974 and 1986.
1998: "Survey of aspartame studies: correlation of outcome and funding sources," unpublished: Ralph G. Walton found 166 separate published studies in the peer reviewed medical literature, which had relevance for questions of human safety. The 74 studies funded by industry all (100%) attested to aspartame's safety, whereas of the 92 non-industry funded studies, 84 (91%) identified a problem. 6 of the 7 non-industry funded studies that were favorable to aspartame safety were from the FDA, which has a public record that shows a strong pro-industry bias.
1999: Monsanto sells their phenylalanine facilities to Great Lakes Chemical Corporation (GLC) for $125 million. In 2000, GLC sued Monsanto because of a $71 million dollar shortfall in expected sales.
How Aspartame Became Legal - The Timeline