Are Soda Scolds Super-Sizing Us with Sweetener Scares?

Hand crushing a soda canBefore New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene unleashed its War on Soda, there was its War on Trans Fat. And as we noted repeatedly at the time, the adoption of trans fats was actually nudged along by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) — the people who think that just about anything you eat will kill you—back in the 1980s. The group’s Nutrition Action Healthletter said in 1988: “All told, the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up.”

CSPI flip-flopped on trans fats just in time for CSPI to lead the war on them, but it’s fair to say that trans fat use in restaurants was–to  a significant degree–a problem of CSPI’s own making, as a former editor of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition said in 2003. But surely CSPI’s campaigns wouldn’t cause any more health harm? As a Wall Street Journal columnist argues today, don’t be so sure about that:

Aspartame, the sweetener in Diet Coke [and most other zero-calorie sodas], has been relentlessly assaulted since it debuted in the early 1980s. Just this month, in an exhaustive investigation, the European Food Safety Authority not only declared aspartame safe. Its report noted that rebutting junk-science claims against aspartame has been a full-time job since the agency was created in 2002.

And sure enough, despite CSPI haranguing on about calories in soft drinks, despite government data showing that they provide only seven percent of our daily intakeCSPI gives aspartame an “Avoid” rating. As the WSJ columnist notes in response to CSPI founder Michael Jacobson’s claim that “natural” zero-calorie sweeteners will transform the beverage industry:

Then we’ll have reached a sugar-free Shangri-La that we might have reached decades earlier if not for the unreasoning opposition on artificial sweeteners.

And Michael Jacobson’s CSPI is arguably the leader of the unreasoning opposition. It won’t be the first time nutrition suffered at CSPI’s hands, and it probably won’t be the last.

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