WHAT'S NEW -- CSPI PRESS RELEASES
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, July 31, 1996
Contact: Michael Jacobson 202/332-9110, ext. 328
Artificial Sweetener 'Sunett'
Should Not Be Used in Diet Soda
New Tests Needed, Cancer Experts Tell FDA
Prominent cancer experts are urging the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) to require good tests that prove the non-caloric artificial sweetener
Sunett (acesulfame potassium or acesulfame K) does not cause cancer before
allowing it to be used in diet soda.
Citing those experts' concern, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public
Interest (CSPI) has asked the FDA to ban the use of acesulfame. The artificial
sweetener is used in some flavors of Trident and Wrigley's Freedent gum,
Jell-O Sugar-Free instant puddings and gelatin desserts, Hershey's Lite Syrup,
and other foods.
Acesulfame's manufacturer, the German-based Hoechst, claims that the
synthetic chemical "has been extensively tested" and that those tests "establish
that Sunett is safe for use, even at high concentrations." However, 10 experts
who recently reviewed Hoechst's 20-year-old cancer tests concluded that those
tests were seriously flawed.
Dr. David P. Rall, former director of the National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences and its National Toxicology Program (NTP), said Hoechst's
tests "do not permit an assessment that use of this compound would provide a
'reasonable certainty of no harm,'" the FDA's standard for approving food
additives. "In fact, there are indications that it might be carcinogenic."
The urgent need for new tests is increased by the likelihood that many millions
of Americans would drink diet soft drinks containing Sunett. According to Dr.
Arthur C. Upton, former director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), "In
view of the large scale consumption of acesulfame potassium by the general
population that could result from its introduction as a non-nutritive beverage
sweetener, appropriate steps to determine its safety should clearly be taken in
Dr. Lorenzo Tomatis, former director of the International Agency for
Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organization agency, noted,
"Since large sectors of the population may become exposed to acesulfame
potassium, and among them a large proportion of children, it seems urgent
that properly conducted long-term tests be initiated as soon as possible."
CSPI is asking the FDA to reject the use of the sweetener in soft drinks and to
withdraw all previously granted approvals for use in other foods. Executive
director Michael Jacobson and senior scientist Myra Karstadt also informed
the FDA that CSPI has asked the NTP to conduct high-quality tests to
determine whether acesulfame causes cancer.
"Hoechst's studies of acesulfame's carcinogenic potential were poorly
designed, poorly executed, and poorly reported," said Karstadt. "High-quality
testing is imperative before any new uses are even considered by the FDA."
Karstadt has extensive experience in regulation of toxic chemicals, particularly
Jacobson said, "The FDA's job is to protect the public from possible
carcinogens like acesulfame. Considering the miserable quality of the safety
testing, it is incredible that the FDA previously approved some uses of
acesulfame and is considering approving it for use in diet soda."
Acesulfame is present in some low-calorie varieties of General Foods
International coffees, Impress hot cocoa mix, Bazooka bubblegum,
Cinn-A-Burst and Twisters chewing gum, Go Lightly and Sweet 'n' Low hard
candies, and Hawaiian Island Pops, among other foods. It is also the main
sweetening agent in Sweet One tabletop sweetener. The FDA is now
considering Hoechst's petition for use of acesulfame in nonalcoholic beverages,
including soda. Allowing Sunett in soft drinks would result in a tremendous
increase in use. In Canada, acesulfame is used in Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.
Other cancer experts who joined CSPI in criticizing the Hoechst tests and
calling for better studies of acesulfame's potential for causing cancer:
* Dr. Emmanuel Farber, Professor of Pathology, Jefferson Medical College,
* Dr. Franklin E. Mirer, Director, Health and Safety Department,
International Union, United Automobile Workers, and a member of the NTP
Board of Scientific Counselors
* Dr. Umberto Saffiotti, Chief of the NCI Laboratory of Experimental
* Dr. Marvin Schneiderman, former NCI Associate Director for Field Studies
* Dr. Ellen K. Silbergeld, Professor of Epidemiology and Toxicology,
University of Maryland at Baltimore, and a former member of the NTP Board
of Scientific Counselors
* J. D. Wilbourn, IARC, Acting Chief of the Unit of Carcinogen Identification
* Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, Director, Public Citizen's Health Research Group, and
a former member of the NCI Carcinogenicity Clearinghouse
(All institutions are listed for identification purposes only.)
CSPI is a Washington-based nonprofit organization that led the effort to win passage of the
1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. It is well-known for its opposition to the fat
substitute olestra and for its nutrition studies of movie-theater popcorn and restaurant meals.
Supported largely by the 750,000 subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter, CSPI accepts
no funds from industry or government.
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