Food Engineering

Congress clears saccharin

March 22, 2003
Former President Bill Clinton has been widely criticized for his last-minute presidential pardons but at least one was justified: his pardon of saccharin, falsely accused as a human carcinogen. On Dec. 21, Clinton signed legislation allowing removal of the warning label required since 1977 on saccharin-sweetened foods and beverages.

Congress on Dec. 15 passed H.R. 5668, the Saccharin Warning Elimination via Environmental Testing Employing Science and Technology (SWEETEST) Act as part of the Health & Human Services Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4577). "Sound, new scientific research results of more than two decades of study have decisively proven saccharin's safety," said Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), sponsor of the SWEETEST Act. Earlier, the National Toxicology Program had removed saccharin from its Ninth Report on Carcinogens, joining agencies such as the American Cancer Society, American Medial Association, American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetes Association in supporting the safety of saccharin.

Discovered in 1879, saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar, allowing its use in such low dosages that caloric content is negligible. Saccharin was for many years the only alternative sweeter to sugar. In 1977, however, FDA proposed banning saccharin based on controversial high-dose rat studies.

Many scientists, health professionals and consumers (including diabetics) opposed the ban, so Congress passed successive moratoria on the ban to maintain the availability of saccharin to consumers. FDA withdrew it's ban proposal in 1991. According to the Calorie Control Council, saccharin remains an important sweetener in a wide range of sugar-free and low-calorie products and is approved in more than 100 countries.