In memory of Jim Turner, attorney, consumer advocate and champion in the fight against chemical sweeteners

Jim Turner

A crusader in the war against aspartame, Jim passed away at his home in Washington, DC on January 25. Below is a tribute to Jim published by the Children’s Health Defense Team at its website the Defender.

The Children’s Health Defense team was deeply saddened to learn of the death of attorney James Turner on Jan. 25.

Turner, 81, was a consumer crusader and champion in the fight against chemical sweeteners who began his public advocacy career as one of Ralph Nader’s Raiders.

In 1970, Turner wrote “The Chemical Feast, a best-seller that exposed the food industry’s failure to protect the food supply. His fight to remove cyclamate from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Generally Recognized as Safe list led to the book being removed from the market, but it was republished in 1976 by Penguin Books.

A graduate of The Ohio State University (OSU) on a U.S. Navy scholarship, Turner served in the OSU student senate for three years. He received his law degree from The Ohio State University College of Law (now Moritz College of Law) where he served as Chief Justice of the Moot Court.

Between undergraduate and law school, Turner was a lieutenant on active duty in the U.S. Navy. He graduated with distinction from the Naval Justice School and served as a nuclear weapons handling officer and gunnery officer aboard the U.S.S. Purdy and the U.S.S. Austin.

Turner played a major role in the fight against the artificial sweetener aspartame. He also worked with Dr. John Olney in the late 1960s during the Senate hearings about monosodium glutamate (MSG) in baby foods.

Turner was concerned about Olney’s research proving aspartame caused brain lesions in baby rats and he fought to make sure it would not get approved as an artificial sweetener. He discovered that the aspartic acid in aspartame had similar properties to glutamate — an ingredient in MSG.

Representing a Washington, D.C. public interest group, Consumer Nutrition Institute, Turner and Olney filed formal objections with the FDA and challenged the validity of some of the key aspartame safety tests that the manufacturer, Searle, had submitted to the FDA.

Turner and Olney highlighted evidence that aspartame was causing brain damage, brain tumors, seizures and changes in animal brain chemistry and therefore it may have the potential to affect pregnant women and young children.

Turner and Olney were worried there was no way to control how much NutraSweet (aspartame) children were ingesting. Searle had not tested aspartame on humans and safe dosage data for children was not available. Turner and Olney insisted if children ate too many products containing NutraSweet they could easily cross the threshold that could trigger seizures.

After the Ramazzini Institute studies in Italy demonstrated for the second time that aspartame was a multipotential carcinogen, Turner wrote:

“When I testified before Congress in 1987 … I stated that just because a substance reaches the market it should not be treated as sacrosanct. It must be recognized that over time a substance that we know harms people will continue to harm people… If the standard of food safety is that a substance that only harms some people, but not all people is going to be allowed on the market, then special policies should be adopted to protect those at risk.

“This was never done… victims of aspartame continue to develop neurodegenerative disease, suffer diabetes, drug interactions, obesity, heart disease and loss of vision. Never has the public been warned that it triggers birth defects, a catastrophe the eminent Dr. Louis Elsas warned Congress about.

“In fact the average consumer of aspartame is not aware that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says that an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of aspartame is 40 milligrams/kilogram of body weight ­ — about the amount in a six-pack of diet soda for a 10-year-old boy. Nor do they now know how to tell if that amount is being exceeded by intake of the more than 5000 food and drug products currently sweetened with aspartame.”

Turner worked fiercely to get aspartame banned — especially after Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino wrote a bill to ban it in 2007 with the help of Stephen Fox of Mission Possible NM in Santa Fe.

In a documentary on aspartame, “Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World,” Turner definitively points out that Donald Rumsfeld had total complicity in the forced approval of the toxin.

In 2021, Turner was instrumental in forcing the FDA to release its documents on aspartame.

At the time of his death, Turner had been preparing a lawsuit to get aspartame banned, using the Delaney Clause, incorporated into the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by the Food Additives Amendment of 1958. The clause requires the FDA to ban food additives found to cause or induce cancer in humans or animals as indicated by testing.

He wrote:

“The only responsible thing to do is ban the sweetener. And if they refuse to ban it then it should carry heavy warnings… To loose upon an entire unwarned continent a chemical that destroys the fetus, triggers mental illness and cancer, and sickens millions without a word of warning is corrupt and depraved. EFSA is responsible to prevent such depredations, not simply protect the greedy pockets of the poison producers.”

Turner’s longtime friend and associate, Dr. Betty Martini, stated:

“I’ve known Jim for decades. Never once has he deterred from his passion to get this toxin removed. He told me the FDA told Dr. Olney and him that they would never allow children to ever get aspartame because it causes birth defects and mental retardation, yet it’s in countless children’s products, and many have perished.”

Martini said she was exhilarated about Turner’s upcoming bombshell suit against the FDA — a gigantic step in finally removing aspartame from the marketplace.

Unfortunately, Turner became ill, robbing him of the chance to complete his last courageous act to free people from the dreadful addictive excitoneurotoxic, carcinogenic drug masquerading as an additive, she said.

Dr. Ralph Walton said of Turner: “The world has lost a powerful, courageous and consistent voice in the decades-long effort to demonstrate the hazards of aspartame.”

We, at the Children’s Health Defense Team, salute a great man who spent decades working to remove deadly toxins like aspartame from the market making the food and drug supply a safer place for the public.

Many more of his accomplishments could be listed but this is what he should most be remembered for.

Watch this podcast in which Turner discussed the horrors of aspartame.

Note from the Truth in Labeling Campaign: Aspartame is what the FDA approves for use in glutamate-industry double blind study placebos, having the nerve to claim that they have demonstrated that MSG is “safe.”



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The Truth in Labeling Campaign

TLC was incorporated in 1994 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to securing full and clear labeling of all processed food.