ATLANTA – On December 21, President Clinton signed legislation that removes the warning label that had been required on saccharin-sweetened foods and beverages since 1977. After almost a quarter century, the book finally has been closed on one of America’s major food safety scares of the seventies.
On December 15, Congress passed Rep. Joe Knollenberg’s (R-MI) aptly named “SWEETEST” Act (H.R. 5668), Saccharin Warning Elimination via Environmental Testing Employing Science and Technology Act, as part of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4577).
“Sound, new scientific research results of more than two decades of study have decisively proven saccharin’s safety,” Rep. Knollenberg explained.
Earlier this year, the federal government’s National Toxicology Program (NTP) removed saccharin from its Ninth Report on Carcinogens. In doing so, NTP joined numerous other world health agencies in recognizing the safety of saccharin, the Congressman said.
“We welcome the news that saccharin-sweetened products will no longer carry an outdated and misleading warning label,” said Lyn Nabors, executive vice president of the Calorie Control Council, an international trade association representing the low-calorie food industry. “Removal of the saccharin warning label should increase consumers’ trust in the truthfulness of food labels in general.”
The Council noted that government, scientists and industry are now all in agreement on saccharin’s safety. According to the Council, removal of the label is justified based on the scientific evidence documenting saccharin’s safety for humans, and is consistent with the recommendations of three NTP committees, as well as the decisions of the director of NTP and HHS Secretary Donna Shalala.
“Extensive new evidence compiled over the past 20 years, as well as safe use for over a century, has demonstrated saccharin’s safety. The case against saccharin rested on controversial high-dose rat experiments in which the animals were fed the human equivalent of hundreds of cans of diet soft drinks per day for a lifetime,” Ms. Nabors said.
Leading health groups have reviewed the scientific research on saccharin and have supported its safety. Among these groups are the American Cancer Society, American Medical Association, American Dietetic Association and American Diabetes Association.
“This congressional action sends American consumers the welcome message that government has caught up to the science on saccharin, and that this important sweetener can be consumed with complete confidence in its safety,” said Ms. Nabors.
According to Rep. Knollenberg, the National Toxicology Program’s action “negated the need for the current warning label mandated by the Saccharin Study and Labeling Act of 1977 on all products containing saccharin. The Food and Drug Administration recognized that the mandated warning label is inappropriate and agreed to support its repeal.”
FDA initially proposed a ban on saccharin in 1977 on the basis of high-dose rat studies. Editorials appeared across the U.S. claiming that “man is not a big rat.” Many scientists, health professionals and consumers (especially people with diabetes) opposed the ban, calling for more research and pleading with Congress to keep the only low-calorie sweetener at the time available. Congress passed a moratorium on the ban and the saccharin controversy initiated a long-overdue review of U.S. food safety laws. In 1991, FDA formally withdrew its proposal to ban saccharin’s use. Today, following more than a century of safe use, saccharin remains an important sweetener in a wide range of sugar-free and low-calorie products and is approved in over 100 countries.